CUs Were Rubbing Elbows, Boots During Inaugural

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Credit union executives could be seen around the nation's capital last week in their black-tie tuxedos and gowns-even their cowboy boots-stepping out for the swearing-in of President Bush.

Top CUNA and NAFCU executives and key members of each group's board of directors, along with NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson, could be seen Texas-two-stepping at Texas State Society's Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball alongside President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush.

NAFCU Board members Larry Wilson (Coastal FCU), Dave Gilbert (Aberdeen Proving Ground FCU), and Bill Brooks (Community FCU) attended the North Carolina State Society's Inaugural Ball, which NAFCU co-sponsored.

CUNA Chief Lobbyist John McKechnie and Political Director Richard Gose were at a post-inaugural tribute to House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

NAFCU staff and directors breakfasted with military heroes during the Reserve Officers Association's Tribute to Medal of Honor Winners.

California credit union executives were briefed by U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, and accompanied the sponsor of the credit union regulatory relief bill, CURIA, to inaugural events, including a reception at Royce's home. Others dined with credit union champion Rep. Brad Sherman.

NAFCU staff joined with congressional and White House staffers, including top presidential aide Karl Rove, for an inaugural wrap-up party.

CUNA staff and their invited guests from the state leagues had one of the best seats to watch the inaugural parade, as the procession marched right down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol, where the swearing-in occurred, to the White House-in front of CUNA's headquarters.

"This is just one of those deals where we're participating wherever we can," explained Gose. "We're trying to get wherever people of influence are. The inauguration is a great place to meet with these people; it's a relaxed atmosphere and everybody's in a great frame of mind."

For Brad Thaler, vice president government affairs for NAFCU, the affair was another opportunity to place NAFCU, traditionally the second-sister among the credit union lobbies, on the political map. "We're trying to be more active and involved, much like the political conventions," he said.

But just like everything in Washington, the inaugural events had a pricetag-in this case, a large one. The whole swearing-in and its accompanying pomp and circumstance is expected to cost as much as $70 million, most of which was footed by private interests.

For CUNA, that price tag was over and above the $50,000 the group contributed to the official inaugural committee. NAFCU was expected to spend at least $35,000 on its participation, according to Thaler.

What do those private interests get in return? "Access," said Steven Weiss, with political watchdog Center for Responsive Politics. "They all want access and they're going to get it."

"These are all, for the most part, people who have something in front of Congress and they're hoping to get the support of the Bush Administration by giving to the inauguration," said Weiss, whose group tracks political contributions in Washington.

So a $250,000 inaugural contribution, the maximum, bought student loan giant Sallie Mae tickets to all inaugural events, as well as a dinner with the president and lunch with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. A $4,500 PAC contribution from NAFCU to U.S. Rep. Ed Royce will get a NAFCU director, Bill Cheney (Xerox FCU), access to a day's worth of receptions and parties and a personal briefing from the sponsor of the CURIA bill. One-hundred-fifty dollars will buy tickets for the CUNA board or NAFCU board to one of the nine inaugural balls. And $50,000 will get CUNA's name alongside other sponsors of the inauguration.

Other familiar donors were the American Bankers Association ($25,000); Bank of America ($250,000); JP Morgan ($100,000); National Association of Home Builders ($250,000); National Association of Realtors ($50,000), and Wachovia Corp. ($250,000).

Also making donations were First Data Corp. ($250,000); FedEx ($250,000); Ford Motor Co. ($250,000); ExxonMobil ($250,000); ChevronTexaco ($250,000); Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens ($250,000); Carl Lindner and his American Financial Corp. ($500,000); AT&T ($250,000); Bristol-Myers Squibb ($250,000); UPS ($250,000); United Technologies ($250,000); Ritz-Carlton ($250,000); computer mogul Michael Dell ($250,000); Pfizer ($250,000), Occidental Petroleum ($250,000); Marriott International ($500,000).

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