SALT LAKE CITY – With political action taking on new importance for battle-weary credit unions here, the Utah League of Credit Unions has picked a top Republican operative to head its lobbying activities. Named the League’s senior vice president for government affairs–a newly created position-is Scott Simpson, executive director of the state’s Republican Party, and a former aide to U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). The League said it was particularly pleased to have Simpson, who directed the party’s successful election campaign in 2000 and 2002, joining its staff so “we can ascend to the next level in our political efforts,” a reference to upcoming battles for the Utah governor’s seat and Congressional contests. Expected to run for Utah governor next year is GOP House Speaker and CU foe Marty Stephens, who also is vice president of Zions Bank, the state’s largest. Simpson, 33, who holds a degree in public relations from Weber State University and prior to working in politics was marketing director for Excel Entertainment, will start work with the League later this month. In the lobbying job, Simpson succeeds Travis Wood, vice president and a lawyer, who resigned April 4 to pursue private practice. With Simpson at the helm, the League said it would be reorganizing lobbying duties with Brooke Moea’i, senior vice president of dues support, continuing on the Legislative Team. Under the League structure, government affairs has been part of Moea’i's responsibilities. “There is no doubt,” said Scott Earl, League president, “that the addition of Scott will enhance our ability in the political process. Scott will help us convert our overwhelming public support into political support.” Not surprising, the appointment of Simpson drew an immediate rebuke from the Utah Bankers Association which called his appointment an example of the League’s emphasis on “personalities rather than principle” by letting “flawed arguments” which it said allows large CUs to subvert Utah law cloud the thinking of League management. He was referring to the now-concluded bitter tax brawl which consumed the 2003 Legislative session and for a time drew wide public interest in the bank-CU feud culminating in a narrowly defeated tax bill which for the first time bars business lending for three large Utah CUs, all of which are converting to federal charter. Earl countered by stating that the Utah Bankers Association and its president, Howard Headlee, continue a highly negative approach to serving the banking industry “with their only purpose being to attack credit unions.” Simpson, who has long been a member of a CU hich he did not identify, told Credit Union Times, he has found public support of the CU position in the legislature “incredibly broad” but for various reasons was ignored by lawmakers. “It seems to me that a substantial majority of the Utah public loves credit unions” but that message did not get through, said Simpson, who described his position with the GOP as one of “forced neutrality” on the CU-bank issue. The leadership of both chambers of the legislature are heavily influenced by the banking lobby as evidenced by the final votes on the tax bill, sources note. Though his legislative experience and contacts, Simpson said his job will be to work heavily with CUs on “building the grassroots” organizing for the League. The League’s press release on Simpson noted that he has served two stints as executive director of the Utah GOP with a year as special assistant to Sen. Hatch. He directed the party’s election efforts in last two election cycles, “producing significant electoral gains in both” 2000 and 2002, said the release. In other Utah developments resulting from the tax fight, the new Financial Institutions Task Force named Sen. Dan. Eastman (R-Bountiful), as Co-Chairman joining Rep. Jeff Alexander from the House side. Alexander has been harshly critical of League lobbying activities and echoing the Utah Bankers Association position has also warned NCUA of giving preferential treatment to the three Utah CUs seeking federal charters. The three, America First CU, Riverdale; Mountain America CU, Salt Lake City, and Goldenwest, Ogden, are directly impacted by the new Utah law which takes effect May 5 and bars the CUs from making business loans. The Task Force’s official job is to study possible imposition of a franchise tax on CUs in 2004-5, a fact which has triggered conversion applications from a growing number of state-chartered CUs fleeing the state system as “unduly harsh” because of banker clout. -

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