CUNA’s Take on DNC In this piece, CUNA offers its first-hand look at what value credit unions’ presence at the Democratic National Convention brings to the industry. Of course CUNA wasn’t the only credit union player involved at the convention. NAFCU, the Association of Corporate Credit Unions, U.S. Central and leagues all played a role, which Credit Union Times covered in its August 4 issue. The recently ended Democratic National Convention was the scene of inspiring speeches, sightings of celebrities, maneuvering by politicos, preparing for the post-convention presidential campaign, protesting by protesters, and partying by the nearly 30,000 individuals in Beantown for the event. But what did it all add up to for credit unions? Essentially, it meant an opportunity – unsurpassed in three out of every four years – for credit unions, the Leagues and CUNA to reach out and interact with one of the two major political parties in our nation leaders – all in one place, at one time. Specifically, it meant time for credit unions to: * Educate political leaders; * Gather information on issues key to credit union concerns; * Take political action; * Raise the image of credit unions; and, * Communicate credit union concerns about vital issues. In the literally hundreds of events that credit union representatives attended – including the 18 which CUNA and the League sponsored over the course of the five-day event – those five actions were taken from the moment the sun rose, until well after sunset. Here’s a rundown of some of the substantial contributions credit unions made in each one of those areas, from CUNA’s point of view, during the Democratic National Convention: Educating Political Leaders Having an opportunity to rub elbows with the leaders of one of the two major political parties is a heady experience. It’s even more invigorating when the opportunity arises to educate some of these folks about what it is credit unions are all about, and discuss the issues affecting credit unions. For most, this is an eye-opener, and a great way to spread the word about the impact that credit unions have on consumers’ lives. And it’s not always members of Congress involved in the education, but others who are influential in their own right. Example: The Michigan League’s Patrick LaPine and myself were treated to a private meeting with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm during the convention. I discussed the uniqueness of credit unions, the work they do in serving the underserved, the recent bank attacks, and predatory lending. Granholm, a keynote speaker at the convention, said credit unions are a great alternative to check casher organizations and other companies that are predatory, and urged credit unions to work with her in wiping out predatory lending in her state. Gathering Information At nearly every opportunity, those attending the convention and in the presence of lawmakers and other Democratic leaders are talking about the wide variety of issues facing the nation, including those affecting credit unions. In fact, it’s almost a “policy fest,” where issues are freely discussed with vigor. Example: CUNA learned that the banking industry was desperately attempting to convince Democrats to withdraw or lessen their support for the credit union tax exemption (as Democratic nominee John Kerry had done in a letter to CUNA earlier this year). Additionally, the bankers were at work, CUNA learned, to insert language into the Democratic platform weakening support for the CU tax exemption. Quick action by CUNA, League and other credit union representatives, acting on this information, stifled the bankers’ efforts in Boston, and kept support for credit unions as high as ever. Taking Political Action Since it is a national political convention, taking political action may seem an obvious endeavor. The important point, however, is that a national political convention is the mother of all events for political action events – especially where opportunities arise for credit unions to honor their friends. A myriad of such events were sponsored by CUNA, for example, over the course of the convention. In particular was a reception honoring the Senate and House Democratic Whips (the top lieutenants to the Democratic leader in each house, responsible for ensuring that all party members are present when important measures are voted). Both Sen. Harry Reid, Nev., and Rep. Steny Hoyer, Md., attended the event, a gala affair featuring entertainment by such headliners as country singer Martina McBride and crooner Natalie Merchant. Additionally, state Leagues hosted events, such as the welcoming party sponsored by the Tennessee Credit Union League (with CUNA) for the Tennessee delegation, attended by about 200. Lawmakers from both the state and federal delegations from the state attended the occasion. These events, and many others, offered credit unions an opportunity to thank their friends and meet with them in a festive environment – an ideal moment to make some real connections between the credit union movement and the policymakers in the Democratic party. Raise the Image of Credit Unions This year’s Democratic National Convention was the fifth straight attended by CUNA and credit unions. In fact, much of what credit unions have learned over the past 20 years was put into effect at the 2004 DNC – particularly in regard to visibility. This year, CUNA took the unprecedented step of reaching out to the more than 30,000 individuals attending the convention (either as delegates or participants in other events association with the convention) with a special message. That is: Credit unions are acting to protect America’s children. Into each of the “goody bags” distributed to the thousands of convention participants, CUNA inserted a child fingerprint identification kit emblazoned with the “America’s Credit Unions” logo, and the CUNA logo. The kits use a special “inkless” process for parents to use in collecting, and then storing, the fingerprints of their children. If the children are ever abducted or disappear, parents may provide the fingerprints to law enforcement to help recover or find the children. While the kits themselves perform an invaluable service in an unsettled world, they also serve as a tangible sign of credit unions’ commitment to their members’ and their families. And with 30,000 distributed at the convention, it is nearly a certainty that, at the least, everyone attending the Democratic National Convention saw credit unions. Communicate Concerns on Vital Issues The atmosphere of a political convention – while frenetic – also allows for more frank discussion in an informal, and relaxed, atmosphere. This proved to be the case in many examples, including this one: While discussing the issue of bank attacks on credit unions, some congressional representatives suggested that some sort of compromise between credit unions and banks should be found – such as on issue of credit unions’ tax exempt status. Yet, when CUNA lobbyists pointed out that the tax-exempt status of credit unions could neither be compromised nor negotiated, congressional representatives understood quickly, and dropped the idea. The work done by credit union representatives at the Democratic National Convention not only covered these five areas, but much more – including the tasks of advocate, advocate, advocate. At the end of this month, representatives from CUNA, the Leagues and credit unions will gather again, this time at the Republican National Convention in New York. The goal will be to focus on the five areas noted above – and to advocate whenever possible for credit unions. For two brief, but frenzied, weeks credit unions have the opportunity shine before national leaders – and not just those who work in Washington, but governors, state legislators and others. We are making the most out of the opportunity.

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