TOPEKA, Kan. – Political activism may be high on credit union agendas across the U.S., but a group of Topeka CU executives have stepped it up a notch with what is being described as a “classier, more sophisticated” program that relies in part on pinning down lawmaker CU support-”in writing.” Under the auspices of the Kansas Credit Union Association’s Capital Chapter, the Topeka CU leaders-two of whom are linked to the $115 million Super Chief CU here – have been circulating a “support pledge” to Kansas lawmakers asking they sign a document backing CUs in their fight against banker attacks on the tax exemption. “We’re real pleased with the signup. So far since out of 20 legislators who were at our Legislative Forum dinner, we had seven sign up there and three more who did so later,” said Greg Winkler, the Chapter’s Forum chairman and president of Capital CUSO LLC. Winkler was referring to a Sept. 16 reception for state candidates held at the Kansas Museum of History in which lawmakers spoke and signed the “support pledge” after receiving League packets on the tax issue and on bank attacks. The packets and support pledge charged Kansas banks have distorted market share levels of CUs and noted that banks merely seek to eliminate a competitor considering bank assets outnumber CU assets “by a margin of 14-to-1 and the share of both loans and assets is just 5% versus a combined 95% for banks and savings institutions.” But noteworthy in the museum reception was an attempt to rid the “bumpkin” image for CUs by holding an upscale, catered affair that is a step up from the “get-togethers held in a church basement with Jell-O salad or ones held in a shelter house at the zoo,” declared Ron Smeltzer, executive vice president of Super Chief and chairman of the Capital Chapter. It is important, said Smeltzer that CUs promote an image in political settings that reflects the higher sophistication of CUs and their operations than in the past. “Why not show off what we do and who we are by having events like these in fine places that are catered and are handled with a degree of professionalism,” said Smeltzer. That means “we hold these receptions in a nice facility, with comfortable seating and microphones and a carefully planned program that allows give and take with the lawmakers,” said Smeltzer Banks know how “to do this sort of thing,” he said in a high brow fashion so CUs have to show “that we really care about the issues that concern us and are motivated to participate in these events,” said the Topeka executive. At the Sept. 16 Forum – complete with a jazz quartet – careful attention was paid to “hosts” and greeters who made sure each legislator was met by a CU representative from their area who guided them around the room and during evening speeches, said Smeltzer. “We wanted to remove any discomfort,” he said. Regarding the petitions, Winkler, the CUSO president, said the League has distributed the petitions to other KCUA chapters but so far none of the other nine chapters has picked up on the idea. There are 15 CUs in the Capital Chapter with more than 100 people showing up for the Sept. 16 museum reception. Also a first for the Chapter and a way to honor lawmakers, Winkler said a follow-up “thank you” reception for the winning candidates – and perhaps some election losers, too – is scheduled for Nov. 18 at a popular French restaurant. Meanwhile, the KCUA’s South Central Chapter in Wichita said it also held a well-attended reception for lawmakers Oct. 9 at Wichita’s Tall Grass Country Club. And on Oct. 14 the Wheat Belt Chapter serving Hutchinson was to hold its legislative forum at the Cosmosphere Space Museum and in a special twist the local media including radio and TV station reporters have been invited to report on the event. A league spokesman said that kind of media outreach “hasn’t been tried before at this kind of event in Hutchinson” but represents an energized effort to raise the CU profile. [email protected]

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