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The number one purpose of any state and national trade association is to engage in an effective advocacy effort on behalf of its membership. Most leagues and national credit union trade groups realize that and are hard at work advocating and protecting credit union interests on every political scene that matters. At one time, however, that was a foreign concept to many credit union groups. They once much preferred to be judged on such other typical association activities as their educational programs. Many did not even have a governmental affairs committee or even a full-time staff person dedicated to rubbing elbows with legislators. To see just how far credit unions have come in the advocacy arena, just take a look at what credit union talent and influence can accomplish in today’s world. Starting with the lead up to the passage of H.R. 1151, credit union leaders sought and got concrete Congressional support in the form of an unheard of number of co-sponsors for that landmark piece of legislation. That all-out effort proved beyond a doubt that credit unions had become a force to be reckoned with. Buoyed by this new found influence, credit unions have been on a roll ever since. Beating down intensified banking industry attacks is one thing, but being able to count on more and more important legislators to speak up is quite another. In recent weeks, the number of elected officials willing to stand up and be counted by expressing public support for credit unions has been unprecedented. The number of co-sponsors for currently proposed credit union legislation the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act (CURIA) is over 60 and even as the hopes for action in the current session of Congress is fading, the number goes up in preparation for hitting the ground running the next time around. Add in the number of legislators who have come out individually and collectively in support of not tampering in any way with the long standing credit union not-for-profit tax-exemption and the number on base for the home team, including Bush and Kerry, approaches nearly 100. All of this didn’t just happen. It came about because of a change in credit union leadership, of course, but also because credit unions were made to realize that they were playing in an entirely new ball game, one where the stakes were much higher. How credit unions were able to go from nowhere in the ongoing advocacy battles to the front lines entails a long list of well-documented initiatives including many very successful efforts by CUNA under CEO Dan Mica’s leadership. Such advocacy specific programs as Hike the Hill, Project ZIP Code, Credit Union House, a greatly beefed up Political Action or PAC Fund, numerous grassroots initiatives, and many more. Add to these all the efforts by the state leagues and NAFCU and it becomes clear that dues dollars are being spent where members feel they should be spent. But despite all this good news, the job is far from over. To reach the pinnacle of success, every group responsible for contributing to the overall success of the credit union industry advocacy effort must come through. But are they? Unfortunately the answer is no. Why is it that the majority of the legislative support for CURIA and the credit union tax-exemption continues to come from the same areas? Take California as one of several examples that could be cited. Under CEO Dave Chatfield’s leadership, that state is always in the forefront when it comes to generating political support. They get the first and the most Congressional leaders to stand up for credit unions. Good for them of course. But what about the states that have yet to produce even one credit union advocate? At last count, more than half of the states were unable to convince even one Congressman or U.S. Senator to come out in favor of credit unions. Why is that? Granted California has a much larger Congressional delegation than most states (53 districts), but if looked at by percentages, the gap is still a wide one between California and say Indiana, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Besides the states just mentioned, others with more than one or two Congressman but zero credit union supporters to date include Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington. (See July 21st issue of Credit Union Times for only available complete rundown.) Are these states cursed with an entire Congressional delegation that loves the bankers and is in accord with their efforts to put credit unions out of business? Or are at least some of these states lacking in credit union leadership and staff moxie to get the job done? If that is the case, change is certainly warranted especially in light of the general recognition now that advocacy is job number one for every group organized to support and advance credit union causes. Turn for a moment to the numbers in the current admittedly unscientific poll running on the cutimes.com Web site. When asked: “Do you think credit unions will be able to garner official support for either CURIA or the tax-exemption in all 50 states?” respondents started out very optimistically. A lot more thought it was doable than not. I cast my vote for the “No, that’s too ambitious.” Gradually the votes have swung away from “Yes, definitely” to the “No, that’s too ambitious” category. Again, why? It is hard not to speculate that if all state trade groups did the job they were created to do why every state couldn’t have at least one politician on the side of credit unions. What is preventing that from happening? That’s a question credit union dues payers need to be addressing before it becomes a moot point. California and a handful of other states simply can’t do the job alone. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected]

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Peter Westerman

Credit Union Times

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