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OKLAHOMA CITY – Ask anyone who’s involved in lobbying and they’ll probably tell you it can be a tough job – not just working with legislators but also getting people involved. But a senior partner with an Oklahoma lobbying firm whose client list includes the Oklahoma Credit Union League, among others, sounds a positive note. “There have definitely been some advances in government affairs participation by credit unions during the last five years I’ve been involved – some wonderful advances,” Bobby Stem of Capitol Gains declares. “I’d say we’ve done very well in penetrating 25 to 40 percent of our member credit unions. But there are still about 50 percent of our credit unions who need to participate a little more.” Stem believes credit union leagues and associations in other states generally face the same challenge. Colleagues he has talked with outside Oklahoma see a similar pattern. After a solid, well-organized effort over four or five years about half the credit unions or perhaps less become involved. What’s holding back that other 50%? For one thing, Stem says, about half of Oklahoma’s credit unions are small institutions. It’s difficult for them to bring staff or directors to Oklahoma City and spend a day and a half participating in grassroots legislative efforts. It’s not only an expense, especially for those who must travel some distance to the state capital, it’s a manpower issue. Someone has to keep the credit union open. There’s also the misconception that their time in Oklahoma City doesn’t matter. “The message we try to get across to all our member credit unions is that one day per year over a couple years will really help build solid relationships,” Stem emphasizes. “If I can have that one day per year in the Capitol building I can begin introducing them to their local legislators and they will become a resource for our lobbying efforts.” On the list of hurdles, he continues, is the fact there are a limited number of credit unions but a seemingly unlimited number of banks. In Oklahoma more than a dozen counties have no credit union office. But there are banks in those communities. The bank executives and board members have joined the Rotary and Chamber of Commerce and cultivated long-term relationships with their legislators. Their economic and political clout gives them a huge advantage. Even though there is no credit union office, there are likely credit union members living in that county. It does take time and a lot of personal attention to educate members on why credit unions are unique and motivate those members. In Oklahoma, term limits and a part-time legislature pose opportunities as well as challenges. “Our biggest objective at this time is to take advantage of the opportunity to educate all the new members coming to the legislature and let them know the difference between banks and credit unions. This year a third of our legislature is brand new. In two years we’ll have another turnover,” Stem notes. The Oklahoma legislature only meets from February to May each year. When lawmakers are back in their districts, Stem figures that gives him a chance to meet them in their own home area and get to know them personally. When the legislature is adjourned he can sit down with state representatives and senators at the local coffee shop and develop some rapport. If Stem were CEO or board member of a credit union, he would want political participation from the entire board and management. That participation would take three forms – knowing who their legislators are, writing a simple note to them once a year, and being part of a political action committee. “I would leave it to that individual to determine at what level they need to be involved in the PAC. If they can afford a $100 level, great. If they can afford $40, great. I would want my credit union to be participating in a way that connects me directly with members of the legislature. “The bankers are continuing to raise money and put money into PACs. They are continuing to help finance candidates and bring bank presidents to the Capitol building. They’re continuing to ratchet up their efforts – but so are we. I believe banks were given a message with (HR) 1151 and it’s one they don’t want to reencounter.” Know your representative in the state house and senate, he urges. If every credit union board member and president in Oklahoma made one call to their legislators, that would translate into 1,000 calls. “It does count. Trust me on this. Give me a couple phone calls a year and that will help. It’s like voting. A lot of people think their vote doesn’t count, but look at the last presidential elections,” says Stem. -

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