NCUA Board Member JoAnn Johnson pointed to her own nomination to the federal agency as an example of why it's vital credit unions remain politically active.
"My first experience with credit unions was eight years ago when the Iowa Credit Union League supported my campaign (for state office) against a banker," Johnson told attendees of the Texas CU League's annual meeting. "I was fortunate that they looked on my race as an opportunity race."
With the strong, grassroots support of credit unions, Johnson went on to become state senator and now NCUA board member. The political appointee who started out as an elected official offered some advice about how to work with lawmakers.
"Don't go to your legislator's office and tell them 'You must support this.' Instead, ask them to keep an open mind," Johnson suggested. "That's what you want most in a lawmaker, one who has an open mind who will consider all the facts."
Another "don't": don't go looking for favors immediately. "The first time you meet your legislator shouldn't be to ask a favor," she explained. "You need to take the time to establish a relationship, first."
The CAP Example
Johnson addressed the league's annual meeting just one day after the NCUA finalized its repeal of the Community Action Plan (CAP) regulation that would have required community-based federal charters to demonstrate exactly how they intended to serve their entire communities. Johnson pointed to the battle over CAP as another example of why credit unions need to remain politically active.
CAP, often referred to by its critics as CRA for credit unions, was passed before Johnson was appointed to the board. Originally the brainchild of then-NCUA Chair Norman D'Amours, an abridged version put forward by then-board member Yolanda Wheat eventually passed, despite credit union outcries against it. Calling CAP an unnecessary burden on credit unions, Johnson noted that Congress had turned down the opportunity to impose CRA-type regulation when it passed The Credit Union Membership Access Act.
Johnson praised credit unions for having added low-income communities to their fields of membership in record numbers and pointed to that as one of the reasons she voted with Chairman Dennis Dollar to do away with the regulation.
"Texas has been the most active state in adding low-income communities," Johnson added. "There have been 4,583,000 potential new members added here."
Credit unions, Johnson said, wish to expand their efforts to reach out to more Americans, but NCUA can only open the doors so much due to limits put in place by Congress. To get those doors opened wider, credit unions will have to turn to their elected officials. "There are statutory limits to what we can do," she noted. "That's another reason to remain active."