LAS VEGAS – Credit union directors meeting here recently for the annual Director Conference of the Credit Union Executives Society were given a history lesson on bank attacks in Utah and a grim reminder that more is in store for their institutions in 2004-05, except the assaults look to be better organized and financed under the guidance of an incoming leader in the American Bankers Association. Conducting the primer was Rick Craig, president/CEO of the $2.8 billion America First FCU of Ogden – the largest credit union in the state – which has been the chief target of banker tax attacks in 2003 and the object of anti-CU legislation and court suits in that state. Addressing conferees, Craig took specific and sharp aim at Harris G. Simmons, a nemesis of America First who also is chairman/CEO of Zions Bancorp, Utah's largest bank. Craig warned that Simmons, "whose single mission in life is to tax credit unions," represents a national threat to CUs since the Salt Lake millionaire is currently vice chairman of ABA, will move up to chairman-elect next October and in 2005 chairman, the top elected post. In his CUES speech, Craig maintained Simmons has already demonstrated undue influence in the organization and instead of community banks leading the anti-CU fight it could be major banks like Wells Fargo or Bank of America joining the fray. The Ogden CU CEO detailed Zions' ties in many of the anti-CU attacks across the U.S. including last July's meeting of the National Conference of State Legislators in which a Zions rep took part in trying to get a resolution passed to tax CUs. "By the way, that organization will have its 2004 meeting next July in Salt Lake City," he reminded a reporter with a slight grimace. In addition, it seems apparent, said Craig, that the ABA was drawn reluctantly into that July federal district court suit against NCUA challenging field of membership approvals in Utah and filed in Salt Lake. The law firm filing the suit also represents Zions, Craig told the CUES audience. Echoing a point made by industry attorneys in Utah and Washington, Craig told Credit Union Times the suit, with preliminary hearings due in January, seems to have little merit since it did not challenge new NCUA regulations but focused on existing ones. "Our lawyers tell us it is basically a frivolous law suit," said Craig. He urged credit union directors to get management more politically involved for the anticipated bank attacks which means contributing generously to political campaigns and supporting favored candidates. Lessons learned among Utah lawmakers have shown that "it is better to be feared than liked," said Craig who also praised CUNA's Project Zip Code as a major factor in preventing the proposed 5% franchise tax from passing in Utah last March. Craig said he has read ABA communications which lament the "loss" in Utah and blame Project Zip Code, in which League members orchestrate an active e-mail, phone and letter campaign to district representatives, for their defeat. The bankers apparently would like to copy the CUNA effort which worked so well, said Craig. But the ABA campaign to thwart CUs "is not going to stop," and so CUs must gird for continuing battles, he told CUES attendees. "Just wearing the white hats" is not enough, concluded Craig. -

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