Local CUs Hope To Stem Flood Of Outsider Money To Rescue Congressional Champion

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WILKES BARRE, Penn. – Area credit unions are launching another major campaign in the final days of the election to turn out voters in hopes of saving their endangered congressional champion, Democrat Paul Kanjorski, as millions of dollars in campaign funds pour in from outside groups working to oust the 13-term House member.

Volunteers from Choice One FCU, Cross Valley FCU, Incol FCU, Tobyhanna Army Depot and other local credit unions – who helped save Kanjorski in 2008 against the same opponent, Republican Lou Barletta – are going door-to-door, manning phonebanks and urging neighbors to get out and vote next Tuesday. The Pennsylvania CU Association is financing a direct mail piece that will go to all credit union members in the district, Pennsylvania’s 11th, touting Kanjorski’s long-time advocacy of credit union issues in Congress. And the national trade groups, NAFCU and CUNA, plan to lend last-minute assistance to the campaign.

The on-the-ground assistance will be critical to saving the chief credit union ally on Capitol Hill, who trails his Republican opponent going into the campaign’s final days, according to local campaign experts. “Now it all comes down to whether the Democrats can mobilize the vote. That’s what it’s all about,” said Terry Madonna, director of the Franklin and Marshall College Center for Public Policy, who conducted the latest poll on the race finding Barletta up by seven points.

“If Kanjorski can get the voters out in Lackawanna [County] he probably wins. If not, he loses,” Madonna told Credit Union Journal on Friday. He noted that polling in 2008, when Kanjorski beat Barletta 52% to 48%, showed Barletta ahead in the days before the election. But the district’s overwhelming vote for the Democratic presidential ticket pulled Kanjorski past the finish line, he maintained. “If he wins this time, I don’t think it will be because of him – the Democrats are doing everything they can on behalf of him,” Madonna said.

Kanjorski also beat Barletta, now the 54-year-old mayor of Hazelton, in 2002 by a big margin.

The 73-year-old Kanjorski has been the congressional champion of credit unions ever since his sponsorship of HR 1151, the 1998 CU Membership Access Act. He has been a solid advocate since then, sponsoring numerous regulatory relief bills favoring credit unions along the way, as well as last year’s corporate credit union bailout bill.

Kanjorski, chairman of the prestigious House Financial Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government Sponsored Enterprises, makes an attractive target to Republicans, who would like to knock off such a prominent Democrat, but also to groups like the American Bankers Association, which has backed his opponent with campaign contributions because of his credit union advocacy.

To win, Kanjorski will have to overcome millions of dollars in negative ads financed by outside groups, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, which has spent about $1 million to on Kanjorski attack ads, and right-leaning groups such as Citizens United, American Crossroads, a group headed by former Bush campaign director Karl Rove, and obscure groups the Madison Project, America’s Foundation, and Invest In a Strong & Secure America.

Kanjorski also has been the beneficiary of funds from outside the district, including more than $1 million from the National Association of REALTORS and $275,000 from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with more spending expected in the campaign’s final days.

“These groups are just brutalizing their opponents,” said Madonna. “They’re trying to drive down the [positive] numbers and drive up their negatives, and get their own voters out.”

Local credit unions are poised to turn out voters, according to Michael Wishnow, director of public affairs for the Pennsylvania league. “They’re concentrating on get out the vote,” said Wishnow. “It’s the same group that has always been supportive of him [Kanjorski].”

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