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MADISON, Wis. – As a former contract lobbyist with the Madison office of lobbying firm Broydrick and Associates, Tom Liebe is well aware of what it takes to influence legislative decisions. Now he’s going to have the opportunity to apply those skills and others to affect credit union-friendly regulatory and legislative policies in his new position as director of government affairs for the Wisconsin Credit Union League. The 35-year old Liebe, who also served as legislative liaison for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection and was a legislative research assistant for state Representatives DuWayne Johnsrud (R-96) and Stephen Freese (R-51) and a legislative assistant for state Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-10), succeeds Georgia Maxwell who left the League in March. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has a political science degree. Among his immediate objectives, said Liebe, are to expand the fundraising base to support credit union political objectives and to organize a stronger and more comprehensive grassroots network. Right now, he says, the grassroots network is “quite broad, quite deep, but I’d like to try and do more, simply because there is strength in numbers. That strength is magnified by our members’ passion for the movement. That’s been one of the most encouraging things I’ve seen since I started. There are really diverse groups of people involved in the movement but they are all on the same page when it comes to movement goals and they all support each other in those goals. That’s one thing you don’t see very often.” Liebe says he wants to make sure the league stays influential in the legislative and regulatory process and, “to the extent possible, to be more influential.” How would he do that? “I think I’m a pretty simple guy and my basic approach to that is a lot of shoe leather,” says Liebe. “When you’re around you pick up on trends and you get bits and pieces of information that you wouldn’t otherwise get if you were sitting in your office. That’s what I used in my career as a contract lobbyist.” But, says Liebe, a group could have the best lobbyist in the world and “still not be able to influence the legislative and regulatory process the way you can when you engage the grassroots. I’m going to work where our strengths are and our strengths are in the passion and participation of the membership.” Credit unions, their members and the league have done a solid job informing legislators, says Liebe, but no one should ever be complacent. “And, to be frank, you’re dealing with 20% to 30% of the Legislature being new every four years. So you’re educating people constantly.” Liebe says participating in the political process has several facets. “I think it’s important for folks to realize the value of participating in the political process. It’s not just showing up and talking with legislators, which is very important, but it’s also participating financially. I hope everyone gets to the point where they see it as an investment in the movement.” He says the League has two vehicles credit unions can use to show their finacial support -a political action committee (PAC) and “something fairly unique to Wisconsin called a conduit.” That conduit, he says, is the Credit Union Crusaders’ Capital Club, which allows people to control which candidates get their support. Credit union supporters get credit locally for participation with their elected officials but the movement and league get credit as well because the contributions are bundled and individual checks sent to campaigns. “We have strong participation and we’d like it to be even stronger,” he says, simply because often the credit union movement is up against big moneyed interests. Regarding provocative statements about credit unions that have been made by others in the financial industry, Liebe says the best way to win the fight is to avoid it in the first place. “I think the basic approach is to get members engaged now and, to the extent possible, avoid problems that would come with having a tax battle. Engaging that fantastic grassroots network that we have and communicating with our federal elected officials is the best way I can think of to avoid that … We want to make sure that if we end up in a fight that we have our friends well informed and solidly on our side before anything would ever happen.” Liebe says the League’s approach is to be proactive and pro-consumer, and it will be talking a lot more about the great things credit unions are doing. -

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