WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Comparing credit union leagues' involvement in state and federal politics before and after H.R. 1151 is like comparing night and day, one league government affairs director put it, and one evidence of the high priority leagues are placing on legislative involvement is in the credentials and day-to-day responsibilities of their government affairs personnel. John Passuth, director of government relations for Credit Union Affiliates of New Jersey thinks the league's pre-H.R. 1151 political involvement was pretty typical of most leagues then. His predecessors at the league were mostly involved with public affairs work. After H.R. 1151, Passuth said CUANJ made the strategic decision to build the credit union industry's visibility in the state and federal legislature and to have a dedicated government affairs position. Passuth was hired by CUANJ in May 2002. Before coming to the league, he worked as the director of government affairs and chief lobbyist for a state trade association that represented New Jersey's pharmaceutical and chemical industries. Passuth also came to CUANJ with five years experience working as the senior legislative director for New Jersey's former acting governor Don DiFrancisco, who was also a former president of the state Senate. "Credit union leagues need to have people in their government affairs positions who are strong enough and have the know-how and background to play in the big legislative leagues," said Passuth. He described credit union league's government affairs people as "the front guard and watchdogs for what the banking industry is doing and protecting credit union leagues from banks' assaults. Passuth visits the state capital in Trenton at least two or three times a week where he sits in on committee hearings and meets with state legislators. "I want them to realize whenever they think of banks, they should simultaneously think of credit unions," he said. He also travels to Washington, D.C. and meets with New Jersey's 13 congressional delegates once a quarter. Amy Kramer, director of government affairs for the New York State Credit Union League agrees that nowadays, nothing beats having someone in a league's government affairs spot who has experience dealing with state and federal legislators. "You don't know what battles will crop up, state legislatures in particular are very unpredictable," said Kramer. She cited the Utah state House's recent vote to pass a bill that levy's a 5% tax on that state's three largest credit unions as an example of a state legislature's unpredictable behavior. "You need someone with experience who knows how to deal with issues and package credit unions' position." Kramer has worked with the New York State League since the fall of 2000. She started out as the league's legislative analyst and was promoted to her current position when the league's former director of government affairs Chris Revere left. Before coming to the NYSCUL, Kramer worked as a legislative analyst for a New York State senator where she was responsible for drafting legislation. "Credit unions need to raise the bar on the qualifications they require from their government affairs people. The banks have seasoned lobbyists who have the skill sets necessary for dealing with legislators and moving issues through. Lobbyists have to be able to take in large amounts of information quickly and know how to work their particular legislators on an issue," she said. Passuth put it this way: "In the past, credit unions were viewed as not being as sophisticated as banks. It was a tough stereotype to get out from under, but legislators' image of credit unions has changed. They've seen the power of credit unions, and that power sends a strong message to Congress and state legislatures." -


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