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<p>WASHINGTON – Diane Casey, President of America’s Community Bankers (ACB), sent the 165 bankers attending the ACB’s annual Government Affairs Conference (taking place at press time) to lobby their Congressional delegations in support of five “high priority” issues but not, particularly, to attack credit unions. The five issues ACB considered highest priority this year were charter choice, dual banking and business flexibility; deposit insurance reform; government-sponsored enterprises; financial literacy and the Federal Home Loan Bank System. To be sure, credit unions remained on the bankers’ mind, at least as a footnote. A briefing paper on the pending regulatory relief legislation asked the conference participants to lobby representatives and senators to oppose “permitting privately insured credit unions to become members of a FHLBank; and lifting the 12-year maturity limit made by credit unions.” But the overall impression from the conference is that credit unions are just one item among a whole list of things on community bankers’ priority lists. Their objections to the two credit union backed initiatives in the regulatory relief bill, for example, came after the six things they liked about the pending legislation and in no way suggested they would oppose the bill if the two provisions were not dropped. “For sure we still oppose the credit unions’ tax exemption, but in terms of issues there are others with a much higher profile” said Jim Eberly, Director of Public Relations for the ACB. Casey even admired credit union political strength, albeit in a backhanded way. When speaking of a bill that would block banks from assuming real estate brokerage duties, Casey called the 182 House co-sponsors attracted thus far “phenomenal,” adding: “We’re going to put the realtors up there right now with credit unions in terms of their ability to attract co-sponsors to legislation,” Casey said. The bankers view the ability to offer real estate brokerage services to be one of the earliest moves consistent with Gramm-Leach-Bliley, and Casey urged the banking lobbyists to “not let this legislation ever see the light of day.” Indeed, there were parts of the bankers’ lobbying agenda that credit unions could support or at least finding interesting. Casey urged the groups setting out for the Hill to work in support of bankruptcy reform. She reiterated Senator Bunning’s (R-Ky.) previous assessment that the bankruptcy reform “has been hanging around way, way too long” and that the problem had become more acute after “lawyers began urging bankruptcy on people prior to the legislation being signed.” Bunning had been delayed from speaking by a previous Senate vote and Casey had yielded the podium to him halfway through the speech. She told the bankers that ACB considered regulatory relief a real possibility for this year and urged them to tell their legislators to support the bill. Casey also urged those of them who were visiting the federal agencies to press regulators in favor of easing the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations that community banks face and getting certain regulatory ceilings lifted. In his speech interlude Senator Bunning also brought up CRA, telling the bankers that it was “crazy to continue applying Community Reinvestment Act rules to you,” to wild applause. Then, in language oddly similar to that heard during CUNA’s GAC, he added “to continue mandating that you invest money and resources in your communities, goals that you already meet every day, is just plain silly. It wastes time, it wastes money and in the end it takes away from the resources you could use to better serve your customers,” Bunning said. The bankers’ stricter language on credit unions could be found in ACB’s 2002 Policy Positions. Appearing under the heading “establishment of a legal framework for complex, bank-like credit unions” the ACB charged that “recently, a number of credit unions have expanded beyond the original intent of their charter. As a result, two distinct credit union industries have emerged,” the ACB wrote: “The first group consists of those institutions that generally adhere to the spirit of the industry as contemplated by statute. The second group exceeds the statutorily mandated mission by extending fields of membership in unintended ways, such as operating from large, publicly accessible facilities and maintaining extensive branch networks open to much of the general public.” Further, the ACB charged, even though the NCUA’s regulations implementing the Credit Union Act are too “liberal,” large credit unions are “abandoning their federal charters for even more liberal state charters. This development is a grave concern to community banks and small credit unions for both competitive and safety and soundness reasons.” The association also charged that large credit unions are investigating abandoning federal deposit insurance. Under a heading “Revisions to the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) regulations” the association decries credit unions absence of CRA requirements and warns against further moves toward capital liberalization. As a result of the CAP repeal, the ACB wrote, “federal credit unions are completely exempt from oversight in [the community reinvestment] area, even though community banks have been subject to the Community Reinvestment Act for 25 years. Furthermore, steady liberalization of field of membership rules and expansion into commercial banking services makes it even more appropriate for the NCUA to adopt community reinvestment standards.”</p>

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