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WASHINGTON-The Credit Union Legislative Action Council of CUNA recently announced that it has exceeded the $2 million mark in contributions to individual candidates and political action committees. This number is nearing the previous record of over $2.1 million CUNA’s political arm doled out during the 2001-2002 election cycle. It’s likely it will surpass that record given that the elections are still two weeks out and then there’s still the remainder of the year after that. CULAC has taken in around $3 million as of the end of September; this was just under $2 million the last presidential election cycle (1999-2000). “Based on what we’ve done to this point, we’ve done what we’ve always done only better,” CUNA Senior Vice President of Governmental Affairs John McKechnie commented. McKechnie noted that the AARP has created this “political mystique” around itself that CUNA is working to replicate in its own way. CUNA Vice President for Political Affairs Richard Gose pointed out that over 10,500 people have requested absentee ballots from CUNA’s Web site. McKechnie added that CUNA is also offering its members a number of ways to get involved. This is essential under the new campaign finance laws, because, with the loss of corporate dollars, more funds have to be raised by groups like CUNA. “We’ve got to help the candidates get out their message, but you also have to have your folks involved to get your message back to the candidates,” Gose said. “By having those folks work on campaigns, by having those folks vote, all those activities tie in together. That’s something that we’ve really concentrated on.” He said one example of getting their message and involvement back to the candidates was the election fair CUNA held on Capitol Hill. “This election year, it’s been very important for these candidates to get out there and raise money early and often,” Gose stressed. “New campaign finance laws have taken effect this cycle. Parties have had less types of money, it’s all come down to personal money. They don’t have the corporate dollars that they’ve had, so there’s been a lot of emphasis placed on fundraising. We’ve tried to meet the call for those people that we’ve worked with.” CULAC has even given to members who have had difficulty making their dues payments to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or the Republican National Campaign Committee, as well giving funds toward their own campaigns. Candidates this cycle, Gose observed, have had more difficulty getting their message out and defining themselves. Part of this is due to the so-called 527s, like the Swift Vote ads, that have popped up everywhere that candidates need to defend themselves against. He wagered that the bulk of the money spent in a number of races this campaign season would come from outside sources rather than the campaigns themselves. All of this has come together to make CUNA and CULAC bigger players in the elections. “I don’t think there’s any doubt that certainly at least within the world of Washington and Capitol Hill and the leadership looking at who the players are and who’s being supportive of whom and so forth. I think that it makes a big difference,” CUNA Political Director Karen Kincer said. It also helps the credit union folks back in the districts because they typically are the ones to disburse the funds at a fundraiser or hand over a check at another event. “The core of our support is having those relationships,” Kincer emphasized. Gose explained, “We get thousands of receipts in and those receipts are dollars raised by credit unions, the leagues, the CEOs. They’re the ones who are making it happen and quite frankly they ought to be, whenever possible, the ones delivering the checks because they’re the representatives of the money. We’ve held that philosophy very strongly.” And lawmakers take notice of this as they make their rounds on the campaign trail. Gose said CUNA is hearing comments from the candidates that “your folks are everywhere.” Kincer quickly added, too, that, “In the congressman’s eyes or the candidates eyes, they are also representative of the voters in that district.” Project Zip Code has really helped bring that point home. “You ask a congressman if they would prefer money or promise them votes, they will take the votes every time, although they do like the money,” Gose quipped. CULAC is really watching 41 close races this election, but that really boils down to a dozen when you look at the tightest races, Gose said. CULAC is particularly keeping an eye on Democratic House Financial Services Committee Members Dennis Moore (Kan.) and Jim Matheson (Utah), Republican committee member Rick Renzi (Ariz.), Representative Bob Simmons (R-Conn.), and Freshman Congressman Max Burns (R-Ga.). CULAC is also involved in 34 of the 37 open seats; the average contribution in those is just over $5,000. “So we’re really involved in these seats. We’re not just saying, `here’s 500 bucks, gee, hope you win.’ We’re really trying to make a difference with out PAC dollars,” Gose said. Investing in open seats can be risky. “It’s always easy to play safe. We do in most cases support the incumbents who’ve been friendly to credit unions,” Gose said. And, many of the candidates in open seats do have a history with credit unions and a political track record at the state and local levels. He admitted CULAC is going to lose some there, like North Carolina’s 10th district where the credit union-backed primary candidate was defeated by just 85 votes. “There is some risk in that, but the rewards when you’ve been in a campaign and helping someone early on are tremendous,” Kincer stated. “They remember that so that has been money very well spent.” Being the size of CULAC, Gose added helps CUNA get more involved in more races and they do not have to stick with primarily Banking or Financial Services or other key committees. “That’s nice because ultimately something comes up on the floor,” Gose said, where everyone gets a vote. He also said that he does not foresee CULAC having a problem continuing to grow. “As long as people care about the credit unions, I can see continuous growth,” Gose said. “We had a couple years of this rampant growth. I think it’s going to take on more of a measured growth, but I see no reason that we wouldn’t continue to grow. The threat is going to continue to be there.” -

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