Long-Time CU Friend Sarbanes To Step Down

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Sen. Paul Sarbanes, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee and the self-styled conscience of credit unions, announced he won't seek reelection in 2006 when his fifth term expires.

The Maryland Democrat, rated as one of the Senate's most liberal members, made his mark on the credit union movement first by helping manage HR 1151, the CU Membership Access Act of 1998, through the Senate. Sarbanes, and the then-Senate Banking Committee Chairman Alfonse D'Amato of New York, skillfully navigated opposition and amendments to gain easy passage of the bill.

Sarbanes told his colleagues during the debate over the landmark credit union bill that time was right to reverse the Supreme Court's ruling in the AT&T Family FCU case outlawing multiple group fields of membership (FOM). "This is a major step in insuring the financial stability for the credit union industry," he said.

Since then Sarbanes has gained reknown within the credit union movement as a constant reminder for credit unions to stick to their historical mission of serving the underserved. Sarbanes even directed a study by the Government Accountability Office to determine whether credit unions were continuing to do so.

"Sen. Sarbanes was a credit union friend," said John McKechnie, chief lobbyist for CUNA, who has known the senator for several years. "His intellect and his way of approaching issues always added something to the legislative process."

"He was always trying to call on the credit union movement to do more for people of modest means, and I salute him for that," added McKechnie.

First elected in 1976, Sarbanes was reported to have tired of being in the Senate minority, as Democrats are now outnumbered by Republicans 55-to-44 (with one Independent), and have little chance of regaining the majority any time soon.

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