Hiring of New NAFCU Lobbyist Raises Eyebrows

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The hiring of banking lobbyist Dan Berger to be the new chief lobbyist for NAFCU has raised some serious questions among the credit union faithful.

The consensus is that the former lobbyist for America's Community Bankers-the thrift trade association-is hard-working, well-connected and smart.

He's a graduate of Harvard and a talented artist, as well. "He's a real nice guy," is how several people who know him put it.

But what is raising red flags about the new credit union lobbyist is his service for the bankers working to undermine the credit union agenda.

Berger is widely credited with helping to bring the credit union tax exemption to the attention of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, which culminated in hearings last November, and in working with House members, including Rep. Patrick McHenry, to try to rein in NCUA's powers over credit union conversions to mutual savings banks.

Traditionally, America's Community Bankers has opposed credit unions but remained in the background of the credit unions-banks disputes, while the American Bankers Association and even Independent Community Bankers of America, have led the opposition.

But over the past two years as the issue of credit union conversions to thrifts has reached new heights, with three billion-dollar credit unions making the move-the thrift trade group has emerged as a new adversary.

Even in a profession populated by cynics-lobbying-some are wondering what affect Berger's role in the bankers' anti-credit union agenda will have on his relationship with credit union executives and directors, many of whom are passionate about the movement and see the bankers and their allies as the enemy.

Even on Capitol Hill, some people will have to wonder when approached by Berger on credit union issues how he could switch sides so easily, sources said.

It may be hard for some people to fathom the quick change in sides.

But in Washington it happens all the time among hired guns.

In fact, a bigger problem for Berger may be working with CUNA, which has had an increasingly acrimonious relationship with NAFCU's lobbying staff.

I'm sure one of his priorities will be to try to rebuild that relationship.

Some people contrast Berger with his predecessor, Bill Donovan, an ardent credit union supporter who even helped charter a credit union.

On the flip side is the fact that Berger, former chief of staff for Republican Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida, will bring to NAFCU knowledge and influence with the Republican Party, something that NAFCU's lobbying team has lacked before.

NAFCU President Fred Becker said he doesn't see any problems with Berger's banking lobbying and believes it will work to his advantage because of the success he had in reaching Congress.

One source likened the NAFCU hiring to taking out one of the other side's best hitters and inserting him in your own lineup during a big game.

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