CUNA Finishes '04 Among Top 10, Ahead Of ABA

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Heated fundraising through the last elections helped push CUNA up to the top echelon of political interests in terms of campaign contributions. Credit unions' top trade association broke the top 10 in political contributions, moving up to No. 9 for the 2003-2004 election cycle, from No. 13 in the prior cycle.

CUNA's $2.6 million in campaign contributions during the elections put it behind such traditional political stalwarts as the National Auto Dealers Association, the Trial Lawyers Association, the Building Trades Union, and the National Association of Homebuilders, but ahead of the American Bankers Association.

But more impressive was the $3.5 million CUNA raised during the elections, which enabled it to set a new high for congressional contributions and still end the year with $520,000 in cash, giving it a foot up for the next election cycle. About $1 million of those funds was spent on activities designed to raise more money, mostly CUNA's commemorative quarters program where it buys the state quarters at a discount, then sells them through credit unions to raise funds for its political action committee. That still allowed CUNA to make $2.6 million in campaign contributions, putting it in the top 10, in terms of contributions.

One big change in the campaign funding this past elections was the absence of so-called soft money, the large unregulated contributions that pumped as much as $1 billion of campaign money into the system during the previous decade. Special interests such as CUNA partly compensated by increasing their contributions to another barely regulated area, so-called leadership PACs.

With names like the "Over the Hill PACs" "American Liberty PAC," or the "Freedom Project," special interests can still feed favored lawmakers millions of dollars, which those lawmakers can then redistribute at their will. Congressional leaders like Tom DeLay of Texas, House Majority Leader, and Ohio's Mike Oxley, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, wield leadership PACs with several million dollars that they can use to build their own support with in-kind contributions to other lawmakers. CUNA significantly expanded its contributions to leadership PACs this past elections, making almost $200,000 in contributions to more than 50 congressional leaders.

In contrast to previous elections, the final month of the 2003-2004 elections were slow for CUNA's PAC. Usually CUNA is busy helping candidates retire campaign debt in the months following the elections, but this time CUNA made just $48,000 in contributions. Contributions went to: House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas ($5,000); Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee ($5,000); and several newcomers elected to the House, Ted Poe of Texas ($1,000); Charles Boustany and Charlie Melancon of Louisiana ($1,500 each) and Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska ($2,000).

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