WASHINGTON-The average cost of a run for a seat in the House ofRepresentatives was $73,000 and in the Senate $595,000 - that wasin 1976. Last year the average in the House was $1 million, whilethe top four Senate campaigns spent about $10 million, according toCUNA's PAC, the Credit Union Legislative Action Council. CULAC isresponding to the drastic increases by bringing in more funds, notonly from more donors, but also fattening up contributors checks.Just 4% of CULAC receipts from individuals last year were over $200dollars, CUNA Vice President of Political Affairs Richard Gosesaid. In a PAC that raised about $3 million last election cycle(2001-2002), that makes for an impressive number of contributors.This election cycle (2003-2004), CUNA Political Director KarenKincer said, CULAC is targeting just under $3.4 million. InSeptember, CULAC broke $1 million in receipts and while Octobernumbers have not been finalized, it looks to be a lucrative monthfor the PAC as well, she said. Last election cycle, CULAC madeabout $2.2 million in contributions. It is looking to increase thatthis cycle and has handed out $715,000 thus far in the first half.Contributions and receipts typically pick up pace significantly inan election year, particularly when there is a presidential race.All those funds are going to be sought after by the many candidatesworking hard to keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of running acampaign and without the old soft money some used to rely on fromthe parties. In the first half of the year, according the FederalElection Commission RECORD, Republicans had raised $139.1 million,a 47% increase, while the Democrats were down around $56.4 million,representing an increase of 39% for them. RECORD also reported thatDemocrats had received $42.7 million from individuals and $8.1million from PACs, but Republicans had $129.1 million fromindividuals and $6.7 million from PACs. Since the McCain-Feingoldcampaign finance reform law became effective this year, individualcontribution limits were increased from $1,000 to $2,000 but softmoney was cut out, according to Jan Baran, attorney with Wiley Rein& Fielding LLP. Baran is representing Senator Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.) and 70 other plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Courtchallenging parts of the law. The plaintiffs have raised more than20 constitutional arguments with the McCain-Feingold law. CUNA alsohas Baran on retainer. "The really big [soft] money was alwaysraised by the Democrats," Gose commented, so they have been hitparticularly hard. Kincer also pointed out that, even though theDemocrats have a large number of donors, the Republicans have morepeople who are willing and able to write a $2,000 check.Additionally, she said, the Republicans have the advantage of beingin the majority. Currently, CULAC's contributions to candidates aresplit about 42% for Democrats and 58% for Republicans, she said,which is pretty reflective of the Republican majority. She addedthat CULAC generally has been a pro-incumbent PAC. Baran agreedthat Democrats are struggling more financially from the law. Hestated that all of the Democratic presidential candidates combinedhave raised just slightly more than President George W. Bush. PACsMore Vital Than Ever The changes in the campaign finance laws haveelevated the importance of PACs like CULAC in the candidates' eyes.Gose highlighted that credit union members are pretty well splitinto thirds-Republican, Democrat, and Independent-which benefitscredit unions. "That's good for us," he emphasized. "That makes usa swing constituency. Either party ought to feel that credit unionsare in play. They present a good candidate and a good case andsupport for credit union issues, then they have a very good chanceof getting our support." Kincer followed up, "Candidates arefeeling the pressure to raise money. They're not going to be ableto rely upon party committees to come in and spend half-a-milliondollars on issue advertising and things that will be supportive fortheir campaign. It all depends on how you look at it. If you'refeeling like you're in a really tight race and you've always beenreally thankful for that extra little push that that type ofspending by other groups gave you, you're really paranoid andtrying to raise as much money as you can. On the other hand, havingit all under the candidate's control, all that spending, allows youto control your own message," said Kincer. PACs were largelyunaffected by the change in the campaign finance law. "Severalfavorable comments were made by legislators, including sponsorsSenators McCain and Feingold, about PACs and that they were not aproblem," Baran explained. The credit union movement benefits fromhaving such a large trade association like CUNA, Baran said. "Underfederal campaign finance laws, these types of organizations cancommunicate on a variety of different subjects," he said. Beyondtheir position, trades can educate voters on how to register, thevoting process, and how to get to the polls. Credit unions andtheir trades can host Get Out The Votes. Gose agreed with thelawmakers on PAC ethics. "PAC money, political action money, is themost regulated in terms of political capital, it's the cleanestmoney you can get," he said. "We report on this monthly; we trackit diligently. We are tireless in our efforts to make sure thatevery dime we bring into the door is raised in a proper manner andreported promptly and correctly. I can't think of any better wayfor our political system to operate as to have the PACs themselvespolice themselves and self-report.I'm always surprised how fewinstances there are, not just from us but I mean from anyone, inthose kind of [intentional] violations. It's a rarity." Hecontinued, "Quite frankly some people were frustrated that thereweren't some changes.to increase the limits. Those limits were putin place in 1976, during the establishment of campaign financereform, the original version. Those dollar amounts have notincreased. You can look at how much campaigns have increased from1976." So what is CULAC's strategy for getting more people to shellout bigger bucks for the PAC? "You have to look at how vested theyare in the credit union movement and I mean, do you draw a salaryfrom it? Do you draw a living from it? Is the future of the creditunion movement and its viability going forward important to yourfuture plans in your career, and if so, I think it's important toconsider how much of a part political involvement and politicalaction plays in that," Gose said. "I think that our folks need tounderstand the reality of the political system and what's going onand how much money it does take," Kincer added. Makingcontributions to CULAC is like a civic duty. "You really get toparticipate in the democratic process. We talk about credit unionsbeing democratically controlled," Gose said. "Well, I think ourlocal, state, and national governments ought to be democraticallycontrolled and it is as long as we participate." CULAC's push forlarger checks is not going to be at the expense of the numeroussmall dollar donations, he said. "That's our bread and butter."Receiving so many small dollar contributions "speaks volumes" aboutthe breadth of the credit union movement, Gose commented. SpecialPAC events are planned for the 2004 Governmental AffairsConference, including a donors' reception, a briefing frompolitical analysts, and a special event for high-dollar donors.Also, to plant the political bug in the ears of credit union folks,CULAC has begun publishing its Perspectives magazine, which willrun three times in election years and twice in off-years andincludes political insights from many Washington insiders. CUNAalso plans to hold 15 campaign schools, many in coordination withthe state leagues, in the coming election year. In those, CUNAhelps typically new candidates with credit union connections writea campaign plan and finance plan, do prep work, direct mailings,identify pertinent groups, target certain voters, Get out the Vote,and learn how to use survey research. CUNA Grassroots ManagerGretchen Graf said that the organization has already startedbooking dates for Hike the Hills next year. Credit unions made 45different trips to the nation's capital in 2003 and she expects asmany, if not more, for 2004. As far as the constitutionality of thecampaign finance law, Baran and Kincer both said they are hopingfor a decision from the Supreme Court by the end of the year, atleast so all the primaries are run under the same laws. However,the district court originally handed down a 1,600-page decisionthat "diced it up in ways that no one had dreamed of. So it'sdifficult to say. They could get rid of the whole thing; they couldget rid of parts of it," Kincer said. CULAC is particularlyinterested in the decision on the coordination rules that say whenPACs can run campaign advertising. The current law is unclear andcomplicated, Gose said, but generally, groups can runadvertisements up to 30 days before the primary election and 60days before a general election. "Any time you have a lack ofclarity, you have the potential to make a mistake. That's ourbiggest concern. That's what we're watching to see how it comesout.You don't have to agree or disagree with any particular law,but you do have to have clarity in it," he said. There is no clearlist of do's and don'ts, Gose explained. CUNA has not taken anofficial position on what it wants the outcome to look like, headded. [email protected]

Continue Reading for Free

Register and gain access to:

  • Breaking credit union news and analysis, on-site and via our newsletters and custom alerts.
  • Weekly Shared Accounts podcast featuring exclusive interviews with industry leaders.
  • Educational webcasts, white papers, and ebooks from industry thought leaders.
  • Critical coverage of the commercial real estate and financial advisory markets on our other ALM sites, GlobeSt.com and ThinkAdvisor.com.
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.