WASHINGTON – Three prominent and active credit union leaders have mounted an effort which, they hope, will help remind credit union members, lawmakers and the public why people went to the trouble of organizing credit unions in the first place and why credit unions exist. The three leaders involved – Bucky Sebastian, CEO of the $2 billion GTE FCU, headquartered in Tampa, Florida; Jim Blaine, CEO of the $13 billion State Employees CU, headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina; and Randy Chambers, CFO of the Self-Help Credit Union headquartered in Durham, North Carolina – are the organizers of the National Center For Member Trust. Sebastian will chair its board and Blaine will serve as secretary/treasurer. “We believe that a credit union remains the best opportunity, the best hope for working families to achieve financial independence and economic freedom,” Sebastian said on Feb. 27 while attending CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference, echoing a flyer he and Blaine were passing out to GAC attendees. The group was trying to raise money at GAC. It said it is happy to take any dollar amount a CU can spare. It was seeking a $1,000 commitment for every $100 million in assets a CU has. The new organization will be a 501(c)4 organization and will take positions on public policy positions related to credit unions – particularly in the area of credit union-to-bank charter conversions, Blaine said. Permitted activities include being able to draft legislation, present petitions for the purpose of having legislation introduced, circulate speeches, reprints and other materials regarding legislation and appear before federal, state and local regulatory bodies. The group’s 501(c)4 designation also allows it to inform the public on controversial topics and to encourage the public to contact their legislators. But the group cannot participate or intervene in on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office, Blaine explained. That means once the group gets up and running it will begin to take positions on different conversion-related questions at both the national and state levels, Blaine said. While the group is aware of the controversy in Dearborn, Michigan, where the $1.8 billion DFCU Financial FCU is attempting to become a mutual bank, Sebastian said he didn’t expect the new group to have much direct impact in that conversion since it was already well underway. The goals of the organization, Blaine said, will be to try to address the bigger picture underpinning credit union-to-bank charter conversions in addition to addressing individual charter change controversies. “What are some of the assumptions and misunderstandings that keep credit union members and the public at large from valuing the credit union charter,” Blaine said, “and really the entire cooperative approach to a lot of different things? That is part of what we want to address.” Blaine and Sebastian said they had been able to raise a commitment of over $250,000 from over 25 large credit unions and that they were seeking support from other CUs to match those pledges. Both said they particularly appreciated that the first wave of that support came from the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions which contributed as an institution to the effort and also individually as board members and staff. “It wasn’t a whole lot of money,” said Federation Executive Director Cliff Rosenthal, who said that he had contributed money as an individual as well. “But we definitely wanted to support any effort to reaffirm the value of cooperatives and to emphasize the credit union charter and what we believe credit unions have to offer.” The organization said it has four initial goals. First, to educate the public as well as credit union members, community leaders and government officials about the value and importance of cooperative ownership of financial assets. Second, to provide legal, technical and financial assistance to national and community efforts to protect cooperative wealth and ownership. Third, to protect financial assets under cooperative ownership from being dissipated for private gain and, fourth, to conduct economic and legal research in order to inform the public regarding the conversion of cooperatively owned institutions to stock ownership. The National Center For Member Trust intends to assure that everyone from credit union members to government officials and the public at large hears the credit union message, Sebastian explained, “well before anyone makes a suggestion to change a charter.” [email protected]

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