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BIRMINGHAM, Ala.-As CU Vote, a credit union member education organization started by the Alabama Credit Union League, prepared to go nationwide last week, a survey they commissioned provided disturbing news. More than one-third (34%) of 500 credit union members surveyed around the state said they opposed the credit union tax-exemption, according to the poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies. CU Vote last week expanded its offerings coast-to-coast through a partnership with Callahan & Associates. “We’re targeting current credit union members to get them to understand why their credit union is unique,” Jon Jeffreys, assistant vice president at Callahan’s, explained. Particularly after the Nov. 3 hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee on the credit union tax-exemption, the two organizations have been working to launch the nationwide member education campaign and the survey results demonstrate the real need for it. On the other hand, 58% of those polled did support the tax-exemption. CU Vote Director Wesley Emmons, a political strategist by trade, explained that within Alabama, CU Vote has conducted an education campaign and brought public recognition of credit unions’ non-profit status up from 38% to 63% from 2002 to 2004. The campaign also increased awareness of their tax-exempt status from 18% in 2003 to 30% last year. Emmons pointed out that large gain came at the cost of just 12 pennies per credit union member. But what stood out in Emmons’ mind from the Public Opinion Strategies poll was that the number of credit union members opposing the tax-exemption increased to 43% if those polled knew that the funds from taxing credit unions would go to fund education. “I bet the overwhelming majority of that 43% would care if they knew [their credit union] was saving them $300 a year,” he said, as compared to a family of four doing business with a bank. CUNA declined to comment on the poll while NAFCU Chief Economist Tun Wai questioned the sample size and asserted that the wording of the questions could impact the outcome. Even so, he said, “In reverse, over half recognize the value of the credit union in the marketplace.” Emmons added that there is a baseline of about 25% that polls are always going to show, but there is a big difference between these results and 25%. “There has been a tremendous amount of interest,” Emmons said since the CU Vote-Callahan’s partnership was announced, even internationally. He has been making pitches to the state leagues, while Callahan’s is working through its own network of connections within the credit union industry. The same day CU Vote began officially opening membership to credit unions nationwide, Callahan’s announced a Webinar it is holding Feb. 8, entitled How Washington Will Impact Credit Unions in 2006. “The Ways & Means Committee hearings and NCUA’s December 30 moratorium on applications for expansion into underserved areas highlight the impact that politics can have on credit unions’ strategic options. For credit unions, understanding the changing political dynamics is crucial to long-term survival,” the announcement read. “Being aware of the issues and understanding the steps to take to influence them is a significant component of credit union planning,” Callahan President Chip Filson said. Scheduled presenters for the Webinar include former NCUA Board Member and Centrix Financial Executive Vice President of Legislative/Regulatory Affairs Geoff Bacino; former NAFCU General Counsel and partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm Venable, LLP Bill Donovan; and former NCUA Director of Congressional and Governmental Affairs Cliff Northup. To register for Callahan’s Webinar, visit: http://www.creditunions.com/events or call (800) 446-7453. -

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