Credit Unions Aim to Sway Voters

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Millions of voters will take their cue from their credit union when they enter the voting polls next week.

While credit unions have issued voter guides for years, the practice has reached new levels in this year's elections, with leagues and credit unions throughout the country mailing out or stuffing members' monthly statements with guidance on how a particular candidate stands on the issues. The emphasis, of course, is on credit union issues, but candidates for the House and Senate as well as hundreds of state races will get a boost from statement stuffers endorsing one or a slate of candidates, as well as full-color photographs and profiles in monthly and quarterly credit union publications.

The Michigan CU League not only highlighted the 16 (14 House members and two senators) incumbents in its congressional delegation--all of whom have endorsed the credit union tax exemption-- with full-color photos on its monthly magazine, but has sent out 550,000 statement stuffers for its member credit unions. According to Patrick LaPine, the purpose of the statement stuffers is to remind people to vote, but the stuffers provide a link to the league's website and its endorsement of candidates.

The New York CU League featured two candidates it has endorsed for open House seats-State Sen. Randy Kohl and Erie County Comptroller Nancy Naples-in its full-color quarterly Connection magazine. The Colorado CU League has distributed tens of thousands of voter guides to its credit unions.

And credit unions are working to help influence the elections in other ways as well, as never before. Dozens of credit unions across the country are working to register new voters, either with in-house voter registration booths or through websites linked to CUNA's voter registration site.

"A lot of our credit unions are doing get-out-the-vote work," said Dan Schline, chief lobbyist for the North Carolina CU League, who cited registration efforts at Truliant FCU, North Carolina State Employees CU, and America Partners FCU.

Credit union executives and rank-and file employees are also sponsoring fundraisers, neighborhood get-togethers, bringing candidates to chapter meetings, and walking the precincts with favored candidates from coast to coast.

Officials at CUNA, NAFCU and the more than a dozen credit unions that operate political action committees were spending the funds they had collected over the past two years on key races across the country where credit union congressional allies or would-be allies were in need.

"I feel a little like George Steinbrenner in that American Express commercial," said CUNA political director Richard Gose, of the television ad showing the New York Yankees owner with an injured hand from writing too many checks. "We've been spreading it out quite a bit, now that it's down to the wire."

CUNA, which topped the $2-million mark in contributions for the first time this election, was focusing its contributions on the few congressional friends in close races, as well as almost 20 newcomers they hope will carry the credit union banner if they get to Congress.

More than 15 neophyte congressmen-to-be received support from CUNA's political action campaign last month, as the race for Congress wound down to election day.

Among them were: former professional basketball scout Jon Jennings, and former assistant to Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight, who is running against five-term incumbent John Hostettler (R-IN), one of only eight House members to vote against HR 1151, the CU Membership Access Act. The $1,000 contributed to Jennings represents at least the second time credit unions have tried to unseat Hostettler.

Other contributions went to Russ Carnahan (D-MO), son of former Sen. Jean Carnahan and former Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, $5,000; Patrick McHenry (R-NC), who defeated credit union-backed candidate David Huffman in the primary, $10,000; Joe Schwarz (R-MI), who defeated a credit union-backed candidate in the primary, $5,000; Thomas Price (R-GA), $5,000; Virginia Foxx (R-NC), $5,000; Michael Fitzpatrick (R-PA), $5,000; Charles Dent (R-PA), $5,000; Allyson Schwartz (D-PA), $5,000; Nancy Naples (R-NY), $5,000; Randy Kohl (R-NY), $5,000; Gwendolynne Moore (D-WI), $3,000; Jim Costa (D-CA), $1,500 and Willie Mount (D-LA), $1,000.

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