<p>ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Considering the cost and time away from the office, managers of small credit unions across the U.S. find it hard to make the trek to Washington for political action programs, but a New Mexico Credit Union League "scholarship" program getting under way this month-and a first here-could entice more small CUs to get involved in lobbying. That is at least the hope of managers here-and at other state leagues-that have resorted to a variety of fund-raising mechanisms and solicitation campaigns to assist small CUs not only in political action but in operational areas ranging from providing management advice on personnel to upgrading software technology. The idea of large CUs helping their smaller brethren is hardly new, but with economic conditions impacting many small, as well as large, CUs, the efforts-from South Carolina to Michigan-have lately become more widespread and formalized. In New Mexico, the league said this month it would be taking "applications" from its smallest member CUs for $500 scholarships to help finance their airline trips to Washington to take part in the CUNA-sponsored "Hike The Hill" program in which state-by-state meetings are arranged with Congressional leaders. "We are planning our first Hike the Hill on July 17-19 and to have all size New Mexico credit unions represented in D.C., we had to figure out how to help defray costs of those small credit unions that want to go," explained Tracey Rock, legislative and regulatory affairs manager. One successful fundraiser for scholarships was a CU-wide golf tournament held April 26 in Albuquerque which brought in $3,800, but more is needed for now and later on, said Rock. It is hoped, she said, that some of the largest CUs in the state might donate funds – a practice that's prevalent in Michigan, Utah and South Carolina, for instance. In some Leagues, like Arizona, foundations are set up to channel funds to needy CUs. "We were more than happy to get 61 players representing credit union officers and vendors at the Albuquerque golf tournament knowing that the funds would go toward the scholarships," said Rock of the New Mexico League. The decision on which small New Mexico CUs finally make the Washington Hike the Hill trip next month will be made by a League government affairs committee, said Rock, but applications are expected during the League's annual meeting which was held here June 13-15. In Michigan, meanwhile, Connie Taylor, president of the $9 million Rockford Community Credit Union, said she would be joining her state's "Hike the Hill" delegation thanks to her scholarship application being accepted by the Michigan Credit Union League and the Grand River Chapter. "I feel it is my duty and privilege to talk to our legislators on behalf of credit unions my size, but my credit union simply cannot afford that kind of expense," said Taylor, noting that if she was unable to attend some other small CU representative would be sent from the Chapter which elected her. Aiding the Michigan cause has been the $375 million TNC Federal Credit Union in Bloomfield Hills which raised $6,000 on its own through employee sale of candy bars and $1 lapel buttons. The TNC donations went into a special $150,000 League fund, drawn from moneys left over from the H.R. 1151 fight and insurance fund dividends, noted Patrick LaPine, director of government affairs. "It is a nice kitty," acknowledged LaPine. She said the average "Hike the Hill" scholarship for small CUs is $500-$800 covering airline expense and two nights in a hotel. Richard Gose, CUNA's vice president of political affairs, said the grassroots approach of having "CEOs of both the largest and smallest credit unions sitting side by side" carries great weight with lawmakers in demonstrating the industry's diversity and volunteer support. He said "Hike the Hill" campaigns are proving effective, and even the American Bankers Association has started its own version of the program "something called Team 21, I think." But apart from political action, two of Utah's largest credit unions, the $1.9 billion America First Credit Union, Riverdale, and the $1.048 billion Mountain America Credit Union of Salt Lake City, extend both financial and technological support to small CUs in the state. "Sure, we provide assistance whenever we can. It may mean buying PCs or helping them set up for debit cards, or it could be in human resources, collections or for the website," explained Barney Chapman, vice president and chief of staff at America First which has its own $140,00-$160,000 fund for such expenses. The funds are also dispersed to CUs for expenses related to in-state conferences, some of which may be for lobbying purposes, said Chapman, adding the fund was utilized "a lot" three years ago by small CUs for Y2K compliance. "I think they've helped some 27 to 30 credit unions in the state including mine," said Jan DeLuca, president and CEO of the $4 million Postal First Credit Union of Salt Lake City. DeLuca chairs a committee that oversees the fund dispersement that has a $5,000 cap. Postal First recently used America First funds to help upgrade software, "and there were 10 to 15 credit unions in the state which had to change their dos-based system all at once when the local processor got new equipment," said DeLuca. America First helped them out, too, she said. Mountain America has also given more than $25,000 to a Utah League fund which helps defray travel expenses for small CUs that seek to make Washington trips, "though right now" there is no burning issue in which small CUs want to participate, said Fred Nydegger, senior vice president of government affairs. In South Carolina, the state League said that because of its proximity to Washington it makes nine or 10 trips a year with a contingent of 12 to 13 CU reps in each group. "9/11 and air travel security has put a damper on the number of trips we've been taking this year," said Stephen Fowler, executive vice president of government affairs, who identified CPM Federal Credit Union of Charleston as one of the most active supporters of small Cus. "Look, our credit union was mentored years ago and now it's payback time-meaning we need to support some of our credit unions in helping them manage their institutions in lots of areas," said Russell Easterling, president of the $144 million CU. CPM has helped South Carolina CUs in quality control and in purchasing PC equipment apart from extending funds to make Washington trips, said Easterling. . [email protected]</p>

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