Not Lobbying, 'Educating'
Kenji Sumida does not consider what he does "lobbying." Instead, he refers to it as "educating lawmakers on what credit unions do for their members."
Sumida, who serves as chairman of the Hawaii Credit Union League's Government Affairs Committee, and also is the chairman of the board for University of Hawaii FCU, has many years of experience in the art of forming and maintaining relationships with lawmakers.
His resume includes 22 years with the University of Hawaii, where he worked his way up to vice chancellor of administration. In that post, he met regularly with state lawmakers regarding the university's budget. "The last 10 years, I was working with legislators for funding, which could be called lobbying," he said.
Sumida spent 10 years as president of the East-West Center, an internationally recognized education and research organization. The center receives the bulk of its funding from the U.S. federal government. Sumida testified on the center's budget, which was part of the State Department.
Because of his duties with the center, he said he got to know members of the Authorization Committee and the Budget Sub-Committee, in addition to people in the State Department.
The East-West Center also served as Sumida's entr?e into the world of credit union lobbying. Although he's been with University of Hawaii FCU for 30 years, until about four years ago he was not involved with the activities of the Hawaii league.
"I was pulled into the league to help," he recalled. "At first, I was asked to become a member of the Government Affairs Committee. When I attended CUNA's Government Affairs Conference on behalf of the league, people noticed I was on friendly terms with all of the Congressmen from Hawaii. That was because I had worked with them for 10 years at the East-West Center. People figured as long as I know the Hawaiian congressional delegation I was a good person to have around."
Sumida moved up to chairman of the HCUL's Government Affairs Committee in May 2003. The league's board works on fundraising for the political action committee, and decides which state and federal lawmakers to support.
In addition to CUNA's GAC, he also attends the annual Congressional Caucus, sponsored each September by NAFCU. Sumida usually visits Washington at least one other time each year to meet with lawmakers.
"Both NAFCU and CUNA do a good job of keeping members informed as to where the bills are and who might be blocking them," he said. "You need to know where the bills are and make sure they are in the proper committee."
Getting Along With Local Banks
Hawaii's credit unions enjoy excellent relations with the state's congressional delegation, as well as local banks, Sumida told The Credit Union Journal. He said Hawaii is a "small community," and the banks have chosen not to fight CUs.
"Banks cooperate with credit unions here. When we have our annual Credit Union Day, banks take out newspaper ads congratulating credit unions-even the Bank of Hawaii. Many people refrain from lobbying Congress, because they don't want to upset the local banks. I say if the local banks are our friends, they should understand why we have to lobby."
"What we do is not offensive lobbying," he continued. "We are not trying to close down banks or take away their privileges. We are doing defensive lobbying. We try to counteract what the half-truths groups, such as the American Bankers Association are saying. All we are trying to do in our lobbying efforts is to defend ourselves."
Asked if he is forced to battle misconceptions spread by bankers groups, Sumida said he has not seen much of that. But he battled different kinds of problems with lawmakers.
"Take the bankruptcy bill, for example. The perception for some is it will be bad for financially distressed people because it would take away their protection and lenders would take advantage. Hawaii's congressmen were against the bill, so we tried to educate them. We tried to tell them it is about closing loopholes for those who take advantage of bankruptcy law. We've been trying for two or three years, and it was frustrating, because they don't understand or choose not to understand."
Despite Sumida's experience with bankruptcy reform, he is pleased with Hawaii's federal lawmakers. He said all four of the Congressional delegates-two senators and two representatives-"understand what credit unions are."
"They know we are not formidable competition for banks. Banks' profits are at a record high, so how can we be impeding their profitability? Lobbying is not that difficult, because they are friends who understand us. However, we have to keep it up. We need to be in constant contact. We cannot assume the Congressmen support credit unions and everything will be OK, because if we don't show up, they might feel we are not that interested."