Lobbyist Puts The Connection In Convention

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Passing by the Westin Hotel between events at the Democratic National Convention, John McKechnie, chief lobbyist for CUNA, bumped into Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader.

Never one to let a lobbying opportunity pass him by, McKechnie greeted the California Congresswoman and reminded her of the loyal support she enjoys among the Golden State's credit unions.

"Even with all the planning and organizing and scheduling that goes into these events those are the kind of chance encounters that make this worthwhile. After all that's said and done, it's these impromptu-kind of meetings that are so important," said McKechnie, during last month's week-long bash to celebrate the Democratic Party.

Some chance encounters remain memorable. McKechnie remembers a luncheon for the Wisconsin delegation at the 1992 Republican Convention in Houston attended by then-Sen. Robert Kasten and then-Gov. Tommy Thompson. When both politicians stood up and expressed their support for Wisconsin's credit unions one unhappy individual in the back of the room stormed out. It turned out he was a banker.

The CUNA lobbyist also remembers standing outside his hotel at the Democratic Convention in Atlanta in 1988 when the Rev. Jesse Jackson pulled up to the front and was mobbed by his retinue and other party activists.

Through eight national party conventions (The Republican Convention in New York next month will be his ninth), McKechnie has become one of the foremost credit union experts on the importance of a credit union presence at the national political coming-outs.

"You take these opportunities to talk to members of Congress about some of the issues, about their own races, or personal-type things. Just so they know you're around," said McKechnie. "Though most of the people are the same ones you see in Washington, this is a chance to meet them in a lighter, more informal setting."

For McKechnie that meant meeting with the Democratic National Committee at Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, to schmooze with key politicos; attending a reception for Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York, a member of the House Financial Services Committee; attending a concert by the Goo Goo Dolls with Sens. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Tim Johnson of South Dakota; meeting with the Massachusetts delegation; and a breakfast for the Michigan delegation.

"This is a chance to educate the members of Congress about our issues and to show them that credit unions and CUNA are major players," he explained. "People say the conventions are no more than one four-day infomercial for the party. But it gets them pointed in the right direction.

It's also a chance to get some of the credit union issues moved up on the party agenda, whether it's bankruptcy reform legislation, regulatory relief, or the maintenance of the tax exemption. For example, the banking lobby approached both the DNC and the Republican National Committee and tried to persuade both groups to repudiate separate pledges made by both parties' presidential candidates, President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, to retain the tax exemption, made in letters to CUNA.

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