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HIGHTSTOWN, N.J. – With election day less than a week away, the New Jersey Credit Union Political Action Committee (NJCUPAC) has weeded through the 240 candidates running for all 120 seats in state Senate and Assembly to come up with a list of 19 candidates it finds eligible of supporting. The top five candidates on the list are expected to receive contributions of $500 or less. The list is a result of the findings from the New Jersey Credit Union League’s third annual “Voter Guide” and accompanying candidate survey. Sent to candidates this past August, responses to five issues-related questions reveal that credit union support is non-partisan. As it works out, the 19 candidates on the NJCUPAC list come from both sides of the political fence. This shows that the PAC has not been influenced by state Democrats who, based on three democratic political action committees in the state, have raised $14.5 million to support their candidates, as opposed to $3.8 million raised by three Republican fund-raising arms. Altogether, Democratic candidates for the state Senate, in which both parties currently share power, and the Legislature, where Democrats hold a slim margin, have raised 35 percent more than Republican candidates. According to Evan Childs, director of government affairs at NJCUL, “The individuals that the PAC supports, whose names shine out above the rest, is because of their specific contributions to the credit union movement. Each legislative district is looked at individually versus the big (state) picture.” The top five candidates on the list of 19 include politicians who have sponsored legislation to exempt state-chartered credit unions from a sales and use tax. They are: Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-39), the Senate prime sponsor of the bill and co-chair of the Senate Commerce Committee; Assemblyman Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-16), the Assembly prime sponsor of the bill and chair of the Assembly Banking & Insurance Committee; Assemblyman Neil Cohen (D-20), the bill co-sponsor, current chair of the Assembly Banking & Insurance Committee and assembly deputy majority leader; Assemblyman Richard Merkt (R-25), a co-prime sponsor of the bill; and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-15), also a co-sponsor. NJCUL is not endorsing any candidates in the upcoming election. Its Voter Guide is simply a tool to inform its 1.2 million credit union members on the 240 candidates and see where they stand on credit union issues. In the NJCUL survey, the candidates were asked if they would support or oppose legislation: 1, to expand the ability of credit unions to offer themselves to all residents as an alternative to other financial institutions; 2, to amend GUDPA to allow public entities to deposit governmental funds with credit unions in the state; 3, to require a basic financial literacy program as a core curriculum standard, and include financial literacy in state testing; 4, encourage the New Jersey Commissioner of Banking & Insurance to approve the sales of Private Share Insurance as primary coverage for state-chartered credit unions; and 5, exempt New Jersey state-chartered credit unions from the sales and use tax. Beside the five questions, a profile sheet was sent to the candidates, asking for their legislative history, how many years they have been in office, what other office they have served, occupation information and if they belong to a credit union. The information from the profile sheet is not published, but is given to NJCUPAC for its own purposes, according to Childs. The Voter Guide, at press time, is still a work in progress and is being updated online on a daily basis. “We’re working even still and trying to get responses,” says Childs, who explains the league was behind in sending out the survey for the Voter Guide due to administrative changes at the league that occurred this summer, including the promotion of Childs from head of public relations of the league to director of government affairs. Commenting on the overall value of the Voter Guide, Childs says, “This is a double-sided document. It is a resource to educate our credit union members, but it also serves as a source for legislators to refer to when they want to know what credit unions are concerned about.” Childs says that general questions section of the survey, which asks candidates about their knowledge and interaction with credit unions, is more important to him than the five issues questions. This section asks candidates: if they belong to a credit union; how familiar they are with credit unions; are credit unions providing a valuable service to their communities; and what are their overall opinion of credit unions. “The answers to those questions are critical to me because it gives me a hint about what the next few years are going to look like for me as a lobbyist for this trade association,” says Childs. “If I see that I am going to be working with a legislature that is completely unfamiliar with credit unions, I know my first initiative is going to be on education and I’m going to have to work from square one.” – [email protected]

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