NCUA Says White House Not Behind Its Travel Decisions

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In a tight presidential election that has spawned Swift Boat Veterans and unflattering books about the entire Bush family, it probably shouldn't come as a huge surprise that some are seeing the White House's hand in where NCUA has been choosing to go with the various meetings it hosts.

But NCUA says the White House is not behind the sites the agency has been selecting for its Chairman's Forums and Economic Empowerment Summits, and that the fact all have been in the so-called "swing states" is just coincidence.

The most recent was in Lima, Ohio, and it attracted one of the administration's big guns: Treasury Secretary John Snow. Also on hand with NCUA Chairman Joann Johnson was Michael Oxley, the Republican chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, in whose district the forum was held. The meeting attracted approximately 125 credit union executives.

Prior to that, Johnson, who is a Republican appointee, and NCUA hosted Economic Empowerment Summits as part of the Access Across America initiative in Wisconsin (where there are only two federally chartered credit unions) and New Mexico (where there are about 50 credit unions of both charters). In the 2000 presidential election, both the states were near ties, with Al Gore winning Wisconsin by 5,000 votes and winning New Mexico by a scant 366. But seeing any politics behind the agency's travel agenda is more Michael Moore movie than reality, said Nick Owens, who works NCUA's Public Affairs Office as the chairman's special assistant.

"The meeting in Ohio came about after a meeting between Chairman Oxley and Chairman Johnson where they were looking for opportunities to discuss a number of issues of importance to credit unions, such as financial literarcy and ID theft," said Owens. "The representative is from Ohio and he just happens to be chairman of the Financial Services Committee. And the secretary of the Treasury is also a native of Ohio. We were pleased he was able to join us."

During the Ohio event Snow reiterated his support of the credit union tax exemption, while Oxley and Johnson recounted for credit unions the Bush Administration's policies expanding credit union access to guaranteed small business loans and tax-deductible health savings accounts; and concerted efforts to combat identity fraud and increase financial literacy education.

As for the Economic Empowerment Summits, Owens said, "Those go back to the days of (former NCUA chairman) Dennis Dollar and we choose states at random. We try to go to states where we've not had the opportunity to go before with the Access Across America initiative. Wisconsin was chosen because it was a central location in the Midwest. We had credit unions from Michigan, Illinois, Iowa and other states there. The New Mexico meeting was held in conjunction with a NASCUS meeting that was already going on, and at that we had credit unions from Oklahoma, Colorado, Arizona and Texas. It was also a central location for credit unions in the region."

Owens also noted that NCUA Board Member Debbie Matz, who is a Democrat, has appeared at the Empowerment Summits, and further pointed out that Matz has been hosting her own PALS workshops around the country, including an upcoming event in New York at which Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton will speak.

Still, the conspiracy theorists and bloggers will find only more ammunition in the location for the next NCUA Summit: Florida. (I'd say everyone knows how that state went in 2000's presidential election, except I don't believe anyone's really sure.)

"We're holding the next Economic Empowerment Summit on Oct. 14 in Tampa, and we will have on hand credit unions from Mississippi, Georgia, and Alabama, in addition to Florida," said Owens, adding that chairman Johnson has yet to do an event in Florida (she did speak to a NAFCU meeting earlier this year in Orlando).

"With Dennis Dollar we did an event with (Rep. Spencer) Bachus," he continued, referring to the Alabama Republican. "It's an opportunity for NCUA to foster our relationship with members of Congress who interact with NCUA."

As for those who still see the silent hand of the GOP guiding NCUA's travel choices, Owens responded that there are numerous other states where the race for the presidency remains razor close, such as Michigan or Oregon or Missouri, and that NCUA has no events planned for any of them.

* A final note: I should have clarified in a recent column that the Credit Union Service Centers network is actually comprised of FSCC, CU Service Corp., and SCC. All three networks participate in the national shared branching network. Members of each may do transactions at the branches of others through the national network. The total number of shared branches is approximately 1,500.

Frank J. Diekmann is Editor of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann

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