WASHINGTON-Attacks from the banking groups have really heated up since they got wise and started stealing ideas out of CUNA’s playbook. CUNA President and CEO Dan Mica said a banking group lobbyist told him, “We’ve learned our lesson. We’re going to take pages right out of your book.” Evidence of the bankers’ endeavors are popping up everywhere from letters to advertisements to lobbying efforts. The American Bankers Association is now in phase one of its Operation Credit Unions, which is to educate employees and members of Congress on the “new breed” of large credit unions and why they deserve to have their tax-exemption revoked. They have asked each member bank, as well as their employees, to contact their members of Congress about their feelings on credit unions. America’s Community Bankers has asked its members to call their members of Congress to urge a hearing in the Ways and Means Committee on whether certain tax-exempt organizations provide enough of a social benefit to earn that status. Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) said in a speech recently that he would support holding such hearings and mentioned hospitals and credit unions as potential targets. ABA immediately asked its members to write Thomas to thank him for raising the issue. ACB’s `quacks like a duck’ ad, run during the group’s Capitol Hill conference, is still appearing as the banner advertisement on The Hill’s Web site. The ABA is also continuing its divide and conquer method by saying they only want to tax the larger, more complex credit unions. At this point, 11 states are on “high alert” for potential tax attempts. In a recent article, “Toppling the tax-free Taj Mahals,” that appeared in Texas Banking, the Texas Banking Association lays out its objectives: * Disseminating materials on credit union activities to bankers through the association’s publications, meetings, and Web site. * Dedicating a page of TBA’s Web site to credit union grass roots efforts and recommended language for a letter to lawmakers opposing H.R. 3579. * Creating talking points to use with lawmakers. * Creating a commitment form. * Encouraging attendance of the Washington Blitz, ABA’s main effort to bring bankers into the nation’s capital to discuss top priorities with members of Congress. The bankers have even gone to the Small Business Administration to ask them to reverse their decision to allow credit unions in their lending programs. Mica said an SBA official quoted a banker as calling credit unions “communists.” Additionally, ABA has held focus groups to test the best way to disburse their anti-credit union information. They determined that telling consumers credit unions should be taxed to help the state budget is ineffective because consumers are already apprehensive about banks and giving the government more money. ABA concluded that the best way to attack this issue is to tell legislators, “If credit unions act like banks, they should be taxed,” according to Texas Banking. Mica said the parallels between the bankers’ most recent tactics and credit unions’ grassroots are dead on. “I see this current bank attack as one of the most well-though out, wide-spread, stealth attacks that we have ever seen,” he commented. He pointed out that prior to CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in February, bankers were already making Hill visits warning credit unions were coming. After Treasury Secretary John Snow’s remarks at the conference endorsing credit unions’ tax exemption, he received letters from each state banking association about why the administration should change their minds, Mica said. After Thomas’ remarks, he received letters from 51 state banking associations supporting a hearing including credit unions. Pure credit union grassroots-style. When asked how a grassroots campaign would work from the bank side, Mica commented, “They have never had much of a grassroots. I guess we’re about to find out. One thing I never want to hear is they outdid us on it.” He added that the bankers’ arguments are obviously “not a matter of a level playing field. They want to put credit unions out of business.” Credit unions are not taking the attacks lying down. Mica has written letters to every member of Congress urging them to defend credit unions’ tax status; he has publicly admonished Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Don Powell’s remarks supporting credit union taxation. CUNA has obtained verbal commitments from many members of the Ways and Means Committee not to support taxing credit unions. Public statements, written or otherwise, have also been made in support of the credit union tax exemption from President George W. Bush, presumed-Democratic Presidential nominee Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), House Ways and Means Committee Member Sander Levin (D-Mich.), and Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas). To help get more credit unions and their members involved, CUNA launched a new portion of its Web site last week to help credit unions counter the recent barrage of attacks from the bankers. The new section outlines all the ways the banks are attacking credit unions, as well as what credit unions can do about it. It includes cross-referencing, with links, to programs like Project Zip Code, the Credit Union Legislative Action Council, Hike the Hill, and Project Differentiation. The site also explains what CUNA has been doing in the fight. Mica said credit unions can “turn this challenge and attack into a golden opportunity,” but they need to seize that opportunity. He said he had spoken personally and on nationwide conference calls with hundreds, if not thousands, of credit union leaders about rolling up their sleeves and jumping into the fray. Mica said he is not sure the current tax attacks can generate the interest H.R. 1151 did because there is not a looming immediate threat. He admitted to being a little frustrated with some CUNA members that say they will join in if there is an imminent attack. But, according to Mica, credit unions cannot afford to wait until a bill to tax credit unions is introduced with 100 co-sponsors. “I know if there’s a threat tens of thousands will turn out,” he added. [email protected]

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