Races For Congress Show Strength Of The CU Lobby

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Whichever party wins control of Congress this week one thing is clear: the credit union lobby is growing an ever-broader consensus of support on Capitol Hill.

Credit unions are expected to participate in all but a handful of congressional races this year, with CUNA and its state league network making campaign contributions to as much as 95% of all the House and Senate races.

To be sure, smaller organizations, such as NAFCU or individual credit unions and their executives, are also working on behalf of favored candidates, but the enormous amount of money CUNA and its leagues are able to pour into elections, as well as the additional support they provide, has made tremendous strides towards expanding the already growing friendships for credit unions in both Congress and in the state legislatures.

CUNA is expected to contribute as much as $1.6-million to individual congressional campaigns during these elections, putting it among the top half-dozen trade associations with respect to contributions. It may be true that money doesn't buy influence, but it sure helps.

This kind of influence building can only be good for future endeavors, such as the ongoing regulatory relief initiative in Congress that is so heavily weighted with credit union provisions, which will require support from both congressional leaders and bipartisan majority, especially in the face of avid opposition from the always-powerful banking lobby. It's clear the credit union lobby will be front and center in the financial services committees next year with several bills expected to be introduced expanding credit union powers. That's when the groundwork of building a broad consensus of CU allies will pay off.

The bankruptcy reform bill is another example of growing credit union power on Capitol Hill. Naysayers may argue that if the credit union lobby has really emerged as an influence then why couldn't they get the bill passed? But the fact that the bill has gone so far-all the way to the president's desk in the last Congress-is a testament to what has been achieved.

It is unclear at this point whether the credit union lobby will continue to push the bankruptcy bill in the next Congress, if, as expected, the measure dies in the lame-duck session after this week's elections. Some lobbyists insist they will work to have the bill reintroduced for the fourth Congress in a row. But some credit union critics of the bill wonder if their credit union lobby won't work to get the bill amended to reflect some of their criticisms, or even if they will just let it die. With so many CU resources already invested in the bankruptcy reform initiative, I doubt whether the credit union lobby can let it die.

There will be other areas in which this growing credit union majority pays off in the future. First and foremost is the maintenance of the credit union tax exemption. By helping dozens of candidates get elected or reelected to Congress, credit unions are broadening their support for this top priority. They are also increasing support for an expansion of credit union powers and the participation of credit unions in community development initiatives.

Of course, this kind of broad congressional support requires constant work and the investment of resources, such as campaign contributions, to maintain. The general rule is, the broader the support, the greater the resources required for maintenance.

There are also perils, as this week's elections illustrate. The growing popularity for the credit union lobby sometimes means that credit unions have to choose between two friends in an election, with the possibility that one or more will feel jilted. How do you choose between two friends? How do you make it up to someone who voted for you or cosponsored your bill, after you were forced to support their opponent who was even more supportive?

These are the kinds of things the CU lobby will have to deal with as it continues to grow in influence, both at the local and national levels.

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