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WASHINGTON-Eric Richard answered “a dinky ad” in a Washington Bar publication and found the non-profit sector in tune with his personal and professional values. Richard, CUNA’s executive vice president and general counsel, found the cooperative, non-profit philosophy a “breath of fresh air” after serving in Freddie Mac’s legal department. He explained, a “big difference is, of course, that Freddie Mac is a for-profit corporation even though it has a government charter and it is publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange and there’s a very big emphasis on earnings per share and on convincing the capital markets that it’s a good investment, whereas credit unions are very divorced from all that.” Richard noticed when he first came into the credit union fold, people were talking about offering a service because it would help their members and later worried about whether it would bring in money but at Freddie Mac, it was just the opposite mindset. However, the similarities between the two were striking as well. “What just struck me about it was that the issues were amazingly the same as the ones I had been working on,” Richard explained. “Freddie Mac is an extremely large corporation in terms of assets.but basically it is a government-chartered corporation so it’s fundamental issue is how does it protect the privileges the government has given it and how does it respond to accusations that it isn’t carrying out a sufficient public mission. How does it justify being treated better than some other competitors? “And, those are exactly the same issues we have here. The difference is, there is one institution with very deep pockets and no grassroots and here, it’s 9,000 institutions with shallow pockets and deep grassroots. The political strategies are different but the substantive arguments and the legal issues are largely the same. That was really brought home to me after about a month of being here. I went over to a meeting with the Treasury Department because they were doing a study of credit unions, and the people working on the study were exactly the same ones who had been doing studies of Freddie Mac.” Richard’s position also means he has his fingerprints on a variety of things within CUNA like legislative analysis, in addition to regulatory advocacy, compliance, and, on the business side, the attorneys that support CUNA’s compliance products report to him. “I think one thing that is unique about my job, next to Dan (Mica) and Rich (McBride) and maybe John Franklin, basically every issue that comes before CUNA, the legal department’s involved in,” he said. While CUNA lobbyists were up on the Hill pushing for bankruptcy reform for nearly a decade, they relied on analysis of what was actually in the several hundred page bill from the legal department. Richard also has political savvy, having worked on and with the Hill previously on several occasions. “One of the theories behind regulatory advocacy in legal,” Richard said (which was done during Renewal), “is that it would be competing for attention with legislation in the government affairs department. Legislation is always going to get the top priority because it’s so resource intensive, the stakes are so high. As I like to joke with our lobbyists here, 90% of the time when Congress starts something it doesn’t finish it. Ninety percent of the time when a regulator starts something, there’s going to be a regulation of some kind.I think legislation has a longer term strategic impact but regulation has more direct day-to-day impact on credit unions.” But the combination of the two, and other factors, is what really makes Richard, a would-be minister, tick. “I always found it more interesting to practice law in a way that in addition to all the legal complexities has the added complexity of the public relations on the congressional aspect. It’s more like playing three-dimensional chess and I guess I’m a deviant.” He explained how his law school classmates thought working on the merger of two Fortune 500 companies was the most exciting thing in the world, but it “bored me to tears.” It adds a whole level of interest when considering how an issue will play on the Hill and in the press, he said. Concerning specifics of the job, the litigation is most interesting, according to Richard. Though he doesn’t typically represent CUNA in cases, he does a lot of the behind the scenes work because when you hire someone to represent you from a big law firm, they are not likely to have credit union expertise. A classic example would be when Chief Justice nominee Judge John Roberts represented credit unions in the AT&T Family FCU case. This is also a prime example of Richard’s forte for combining the political with the legal. The American Bankers Association was going to the Hill claiming they were not trying to kick people out of existing credit unions but their lawyers were asking the Supreme Court for just that. So, the credit union side sent a page from an ABA brief showing lawmakers exactly what they were up to. Additionally, the Campaign for Consumer Choice was able to persuade the lower court that reviewed the case after it was turned back to put a decision on hold until Congress acted, which does not happen often; Congress ended up passing H.R. 1151 and the rest is credit union history. “When you have all those moving parts in a single case, I think that really keeps your interest alive,” Richard said. But litigation is still not his favorite part of the job. “My favorite is working with the regulators for favorable results in the most bulletproof way possible,” he said. When CUNA works with NCUA to ensure facts and figures are in the record and preventive work is done, the system works best. As a negative example, Richard referred to the recent Community Credit Union lawsuit regarding its conversion application to a mutual savings bank, he admitted was “not our most shining moment.” “What it showed again was the importance of NCUA having an extremely thorough rulemaking process that builds up an excellent record that really is beyond challenge,” he said. Richard added, “Things are clearer in hindsight than they were with foresight. I thought we had a shot at convincing the judge that this was not just a folding issue, that the fold related to a bigger issue, but he didn’t buy it.About halfway through the morning he finally said, `well, I walked into the courtroom this morning thinking this was a folding issue, and I still think it’s just a folding issue.’ At that point, we knew we had lost.” On a positive note, Richard said, the banks did not walk away happy either because the judge did not invalidate NCUA rules, which they were pushing for in their court filings. As a whole though, the positives outweigh the negatives for Richard. “The moments in my career that I found the most thrilling were where you could get a good result for your client but would play well in multiple different forms, not just one.” This has happened numerous times during his tenure at CUNA. “For most lawyers, they don’t have the privilege of doing things they necessarily feel good about every day. You represent a client and I’ve gone through periods in my career when that’s what I did,” he said, “and sometimes the client is right and sometimes the client is wrong. It’s not that credit unions are always right, but I feel that, even on their worst days, credit unions do no harm. And, on their best days, they really do a lot of good. “I like being on the non-for-profit side of things. I think we have a very positive effect on the financial services industry overall. I just feel very comfortable with the cooperative, non-for-profit philosophy. It just fits my personality; it fits my values and I feel very good getting up out of bed every morning and coming in here. I think we are overall a force for good. I think of us as a sort of quasi-public interest organization.” Along that vein, Richard commended NCUA Board Member Debbie Matz upon her announcement of her resignation for showing “a lot of class” and using positive reinforcement to urge credit unions to serve the underserved. Richard married a fellow legal `do-gooder’ Laura Macklin, more than 26 years ago, who is a professor at Georgetown University and runs family advocacy clinics. While he really has enjoyed his time at CUNA, Richard confessed that it not necessarily his dream job. Though he emphasized John Snow has nothing to worry about from him, Richard said his dream post would be Secretary of the Treasury because it is “at the cross roads of everything that happens.” As part of CUNA’s executive management team, he also works on issues of budget and strategy internally. He gets some of the more difficult tasks, as well, such as sitting with former NCUA Chairman Norm D’Amours at some credit union meetings, Richard recounted. No other credit union people would sit with him and Richard saw it as part of his job. He admitted with a grin, it “probably didn’t do my reputation among credit unions any good.” Treasury Secretary sounds better all the time. [email protected]

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