Credit Unions Out In Force During GOP Convention In NYC

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If you are a Republican member of Congress or were a delegate to the Republican National Convention it's almost certain you ran into somebody uttering the words "credit union" last week.

From midtown to lower Manhattan and all points in between, the credit union lobby-CUNA, NAFCU, the state leagues, and dozens of credit union executives-were seen darting from reception to reception all over the Big Apple imprinting the credit union brand in the minds of the nation's policymakers.

The CUNA team alone, led by President Dan Mica and top lobbyists John McKechnie and Gary Kohn, had a list of more than 100 events where one or more of their representatives spent time meeting and greeting with GOP activists or elected officials. "More than anything, this is really an opportunity to renew relationships and expand relationships and show our support for the members of Congress who have supported us in the past," said Mica, the former congressman and veteran of political conventions going back to 1968.

"It's all about building personal relationships. That's really what it's all about," said CUNA lobbyist Gary Kohn, in between receptions.

To McKechnie, a veteran of nine national conventions, it's about being there. "I think it's important that people see us there, that they know we're part of what's going on," he said.

Eddie Hayes, chairman of the board of Leaders CU, Jackson, Tenn., said he flew into New York for one day with several other Tennessee credit union representatives, who were sponsoring a reception for the Tennessee delegation in a lavish 51st floor penthouse suite in the luxury Olympic Towers. "We felt it was important to come up and keep the people who are in our delegation abreast of what's going on with credit unions. Staying in touch with these people is very important," said Hayes, overlooking a breathtaking view of Manhattan's skyline.

Who Was In Attendance

Hayes was one of dozens of credit union executives seen around the Convention. Among the others were: Bill Cheney, Xerox FCU, El Segundo, Calif.; John Milazzo, Campus FCU, Baton Rouge, La.; and Larry Wilson, Coastal FCU, Raleigh, N.C.; all members of NAFCU's board; Maurice Calderone, Arrowhead CU, San Bernardino, Calif.; Frank Michael, Allied CU, Stockton, Calif.; Tony Mook, Cumorah CU, Las Vegas, Dawn Donovan, Price Choppers CU, Schenectady, N.Y.; Todd Swimms, CEO of a credit union in Tennessee; Stephen Coles, Nashville, Tenn.; Ray Holt, Memphis Area Teachers CU, Memphis, Tenn.; Lou Jimenez, Montauk CU, New York, Bob DiBaso, Local 304 FCU, New York; Dirk Van Deusen, Empire Corporate FCU, Albany, New York; Gigi Hyland, Empire Corporate FCU; Francois Henriquez, U.S. Central CU, Lenexa, Kan.; Bob Rose, The CO-OP Network, and several others.

Another presence at the convention was U.S. Central CU and the corporates, which helped underwrite some of the events sponsored by CUNA, including the Child I.D. program.

Michael Canning, executive director of the Association of Corporate CUs and who also attended the Democratic Convention in Boston last month, said he was there to spread the credit union gospel, but also to seek out potential coalition partners on a variety of issues. Canning said he met with representatives of groups like the American Hospital Association, which represents non-profit hospitals that, like credit unions, may be targeted for their tax-exempt status.

"Increasingly, larger issues are affecting so many different groups; and these groups are banding together to try to influence legislation," Canning told The Credit Union Journal.

Representatives from NAFCU and the Alabama CU League cruised into the Convention Sunday afternoon with a boat ride/reception down the Hudson River in honor of Alabama Rep.Spencer Bachus, who heads the Financial Institutions Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee. "It was a nice opportunity to sit down and talk with Spencer and his wife in a very casual atmosphere," said Bill Donovan, chief lobbyist for NAFCU, which sponsored the reception with several other financial services group.

The opening day of the convention continued with a decidedly southern theme, with NAFCU representatives meeting later at a reception for Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

The night was concluded with credit union lobbyists from NAFCU and CUNA dancing to the sound of southern rock 'n roll band Lynyrd Skynyrd, one of several southern rock bands to play at the convention.

On Monday, CUNA gave a reception at Montauk CU, in midtown to introduce its Child Identification Kits, which it was giving out at the convention. Several area lawmakers attended, as well as Ed Smart, of Salt Lake City, whose teenage daughter, Elizabeth Smart, was found by authorities a year after being abducted. CUNA planned to hand out as many as 15,000 of the child I.D. and fingerprint kits at the Republican Convention and dozens of credit unions have already begun handing them out at branch offices.

Later that night, executives from Wall Street held a tribute for House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley of Ohio at an event sponsored by the Securities Industry Association, as well as CUNA, NAFCU, the Independent Community Bankers Association, and several other groups.

Telling The Story

On Tuesday, CUNA and the New York CU League feted New York Governor George Pataki and Congressman Tom Reynolds of New York, chairman of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee, at an extravagant event at the famous Tavern on the Green restaurant, overlooking Central Park. Bill Mellin, president of the New York league, told The Credit Union Journal how important it is that credit unions get out in front at major events like these to both thank supporters like Pataki and Reynolds, and to raise the visibility of credit unions on the national stage.

"This is an opportunity to tell our story to the Republican folks over the next few days and to recognize their support over the years," he said. Gov.Pataki, rumored to be considering a run for the presidency in 2008, has been a major supporter of credit unions, said Mellin, noting his endorsement of a bill to let credit unions participate in the state's Excelsior Link Program, that deposits funds in banks for investments in community development.

The same night, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and several housing groups, threw a big party at Rockefeller Center in honor of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee. On the site of the famed winter ice-skating rink, guests were invited to play pool and other games while dancing to live music and munching on a variety of refreshments.

Throughout the week there were lavish and expensive parties and tributes of one kind or another to all of the Republican Congressional leaders, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, House Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri, Sen. Frist of Tennessee; for committee chairmen; for officials of the Bush Administration; for new GOP stars like California Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger, for causes like financial literacy; and for charities like those benefitting terminally ill children.

And The Offbeat

There were offbeat parties. A Sunday night reception for California Congressman David Drier attended by NAFCU representatives was held at a bowling alley where lawmakers and lobbyists shed their shoes for the sake of the GOP. Monday, the NAFCU Board members attended a reception for former President George H.W. Bush aboard the aircraft carrier Intrepid, a favored locale last week. CUNA lobbyist Gary Kohn attended a reception for members of the House and Senate financial services committees at the famous Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Bill Donovan went to a Tuesday night party for Texas Congressman Henry Bonilla at Cartier's, where attendees were invited to try on expensive jewelry.

NAFCU lobbyist Brad Thaler, said he hopes the credit union presence will translate into expanded relationships back in Washington. "We've got a good opportunity to raise the profile of credit unions and of NAFCU this week during the Convention," he said.

"This was a great way to meet with people, many of the same ones we see in Washington, on a more relaxed basis," said Donovan, who attended his first conventions this summer, after 25 years as NAFCU's chief lobbyist. The 30 or so events sponsored by or attended by NAFCU, represent a new level of political involvement, he noted. "Last time (2000) was the first time we sent somebody to the conventions. This is the first time we really got involved in sponsoring events. Next time, maybe we'll be able to get more members (credit union executives) involved," he said.

For CUNA, which has been sending a team to the national party conventions for years, this year also marked a new level of involvement. CUNA and its affiliates, including the leagues, and U.S. Central CU, probably spent as much as $250,000 on convention activities, and a similar amount on the Democratic Convention, according to Richard Gose, political director for CUNA. "It was money well spent," he said.

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