CUNA Backs Two Last-Minute Efforts For Candidates

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Taking advantage of one of the loopholes in campaign finance law, CUNA last week paid for two last minute advertising campaigns for credit union-favored congressional candidates that were independent of the candidates' campaigns.

The ads, a cable television buy touting long-time Illinois Rep. Phil Crane and Pennsylvania newcomer Allyson Schwartz, were financed and developed by CUNA with no input or coordination from the campaigns, under federal election laws covering independent expenditures, according to Richard Gose. CUNA didn't even consult with the state leagues, which have been working to support the two candidates, on the ads.

This is CUNA's second foray into independent expenditures, a campaign finance tool generally used by bigger, wealthier groups on the national level.

These initiatives are targeted to single congressional races.

In its first try at independent expenditures, CUNA spent $150,000 in the final days of the 2002 campaign to help bolster newcomers Jon Porter, a Nevada Republican, and Michael Michaud, a Maine Democrat and the only credit union director in Congress, win their elections for the House.

In the Crane initiative, CUNA paid $80,000 to buy 30-second spots on local cable television stations on behalf of the 18-term congressman, the longest-serving Republican in the House. Crane has been an avid defender of the credit union tax exemption dating back to 1990 when the Treasury Department considered repealing the exemption, and was one of a handful of members of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee to sign a letter to President Bush last year defending the exemption.

Crane is currently in a close race against Democrat Melissa Bean, whom he beat handily in 2002. The Crane ads, designed by the Virginia advertising firm of Stevens Reed Curcio & Potholm, were to run the final seven days of the election. According to Gose, the ads are positive and focus on Crane's record.

Schwartz is a Democratic state senator in Pennsylvania who was one of the chief sponsors of a 2002 parity bill for credit unions. She is running in the state's 13th congressional district, which was vacated by Democrat Joseph Hoeffel, who is challenging Republican Senator Arlen Specter.

CUNA's also spent $76,000 to send out three different direct mail pieces to the district's 60,000 households on behalf of Schwartz. The four-color pieces were mailed by Compass Media Group, Inc., of Chicago.

The initiatives, "emphasize the positives of both candidates," said Gose, "focusing on some of the key issues that affect voters."

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