CUNA Straddles Line With Millions Of Dollars In Campaign Donations

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WASHINGTON – Going into tomorrow’s final round of congressional primaries in seven states, CUNA is assiduously balancing its political donations – among the biggest of any trade association – between the two parties, lest the traditional non-partisan lobby be seen as leaning either way.

“We base our support on where a candidate stands on the issues that are important to credit unions and not on party affiliation,” said Richard Gose, political director of CUNA, which will spend more than $4 million this election season on congressional contributions and other campaign activity.

So far CUNA has steered clear of efforts by the two parties to win control of Congress, choosing to use its vast treasury not behind Democrats or Republicans, but behind pro-credit union candidates, according to Gose. The most recent case in point: a $66,000 independent expenditure last weekend funding radio ads supporting senate candidate Ovide Lamontagne in tomorrow’s Republican primary in New Hampshire based on Lamontagne’s 10-year service on the board of St. Mary’s Bank, the nation’s oldest credit union. Lamontagne’s credit union service – he was chairman of the St. Mary’s board till April – was the driving force behind the campaign and not opposition to any other candidate, according to CUNA.

But CUNA has made special expenditures on behalf of Democratic candidates, as well, such as in the 2008 Maine primary, and most famously on behalf of Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman in 2006.

Through the first 20 months of the two-year election cycle, CUNA has made almost $2.4 million in campaign contributions, about 56% of it to Democrats and 44% to Republicans – roughly equivalent to the percentage of seats each party controls in the House and Senate.

This is typical of CUNA’s campaign strategy, with the vast majority of campaign contributions – well over 90% – going to congressional incumbents and the remainder to neophyte candidates who have proven themselves credit union friends either in the state legislature or in other ways, such as a pledge of support for the credit union tax exemption.

This careful strategy of non-partisanship is critical to interests such as CUNA, which does not want to be seen as favoring one party, especially as control of Congress hangs in the balance.

As the final days of this pivotal campaign wind down, CUNA may play a critical role in several important House races where congressional allies may be in jeopardy. CUNA is sitting on more than $1 million of cash available for special initiatives, including independent expenditures, and if past elections are any guide, is expected to spend almost every penny of it before Election Day.

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