Politician: Checks Are Nice, People Better

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Credit unions have set records in recent years for political action fundraising. But one politician told credit unions the check is nice, but delivering people is even nicer.

The comment came during an interactive panel discussion at CUNA's Future Forum here. Moderated by Patrick Adams, executive VP with St. Louis Community CU, the panelists included Scott Earl, president of the Utah League of Credit Unions; Richard Gose, VP-political affairs for CUNA; Rick Pillow, president of the Virginia league, and State Rep. Dan Foley (R-NM).

The conversation, during which the various panelists responded to questions from both the moderator and audience, was varied, but perhaps most illuminating for many of the directors on hand were the comments of Scott Earl, president of the Utah League of Credit Unions.

"The speaker of the House in Utah is a vice president of Zion's Bank and he is driven by his employer to push an anti-credit union agenda," noted Earl. "I urge you to support people who can move into leadership positions (in the legislature). You can't underestimate the power of people in leadership. Our own speaker has made it an uphill battle for us at every turn. We had one piece of (anti-CU) legislation bottled up in the rules committee, and the speaker went to each member and said 'if you like being on the rules committee, you'll move this bill out of committee.' And they did."

Below is a look at some of the other comments made:

Pillow: One situation that happened to us that has been beneficial was that the Speaker (in Virginia) asked us to get involved in three close races. We got credit unions involved in the campaigns. In one primary race a senator won by 100 votes. That's going to pay a big dividend for us at some point. And we've told our legislators that the tax exemption issue is one issue on which we just can't compromise.

Foley: One thing people need to realize that is a big differentiator in politics, nine out of 10 people would say it's money. But I can tell you as someone who has run for office that people are more important than money. We never seem to have enough people. And that's what I think the credit unions have over the bankers.

My opponent in my last election outspent me three to one, and he got beat four to one. I think credit unions can go to the legislature and say we're concerned. The people at the league make sure I hear from the people who live near me. They've made sure that members and people on the boards are there during legislative sessions.

So instead of one or two high-powered banking lobbyists, I hear we've got some people here from credit unions to see you, and there are 35 or 40 people there to talk to me.

When you get a call for help, do more than just write a check. Ask where you can bring the check, and where you can also bring 12 members or employees to help stuff envelopes. It's that stuff that works. That's the one thing the bankers can't bring verybody is writing checks. When you help someone to win, people begin to think that you can also help someone to lose.

Pillow: One of the things we have been trying to say during the past six months is that that relationship building is extremely important. I ask people if I were to mention your name to a state legislator would they know your name personally ot your credit union name, your name. That's the level we're trying to get to.

Earl: I used to do chapter meetings and would ask how many of you know who your state legislator is, and a third of the hands would go up. That's just not good enough anymore. You need to do more than know who they are; you should be involved in their election. In our state (America First Credit Union CEO) Rick Craig had a good relationship with a state senator who took taxation language out. We have one state senator who has 38,000 credit union members in his district. He won the last time by 20 votes. That causes a state senator to sit up and notice.

Gose: One problem we're having is these term limits and keeping relationships up. I think this is something the banks have identified. A lot of these newer members aren't educated. They go to the Chamber of Commerce, which is always well represented by the banking community. They drive down the street and see banks. But their perception of where the power is isn't there.

Foley: A lot of people who champion the bankers' cause are from the banking industry. They didn't just wake up one morning and say they support banks. If you're not part of the solution, you're going to get run over by the solution. The best way to make sure you're represented in the legislature is to make sure you have employees in the legislature. In this day and age where you have part-time legislators, we find ourselves in lots of instances where legislators turn to those who know about a particular issue.

Gose: There are a lot of groups that go to Washington or their state capital and say they are doing good things. That's what's important about Project Differentiation. It lets you show what you've been doing. It's been documented. It's important, especially if you pick up an underserved area.

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