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ARLINGTON, Va.-Shortly before the House Ways & Means Committee hearing last November, NAFCU retained outside lobbying expertise that would provide a very inside look into Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and his line of thinking. NAFCU President and CEO Fred Becker confirmed that the trade group has retained the services of Cathy Abernathy, former chief of staff to Thomas as a consultant lobbyist. Abernathy did not return a request for an interview. However, Becker called her a “well-known tax policy expert” with “terrific relations with the chairman and committee staff.” The Bakersfield Californian reported June 25, 2000 that Abernathy inadvertently leaked an “intensely personal” relationship Thomas allegedly was having with a pharmaceutical lobbyist while he was chairing the Ways & Means subcommittee on health and was responsible for ushering through legislation for a Medicare prescription drug benefit. The paper spoke with “sources” that described Abernathy “crying on my shoulder” about the situation and how it could ruin her and Thomas’ careers. CNN.com reported June 27, 2000 that his office did not deny the allegations that he was having the affair, but that it never influenced his “judgment on public policy.” Abernathy declined to comment on the remarks by “sources” at the time to CNN. Abernathy left Thomas’ staff on good terms in June 2001, a spokesperson for his office told Credit Union Times. This is the first time during Becker’s tenure that NAFCU has gone outside its own talent in the lobbying arena. He consulted his board and looked into her credentials before making the decision. “She was hired because of her expertise.I did my due diligence and she has a marvelous reputation of representing her clients,” Becker said. Abernathy does have several well-known clients, including, General Electric, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Johnson & Johnson, the Motion Picture Association of America, and Northwest Airlines. Becker said he was after the person with “the best reputation in town” on tax issues. “Defending the tax status is what credit unions are about and what NAFCU is all about,” Becker commented in terms of the seriousness of the issue. Abernathy helped prep NAFCU’s witness, Navy Federal Credit Union President and CEO Cutler Dawson, for his testimony before the Ways & Means Committee Nov. 3. -

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