Regardless Of Results, CUs Should Do Well

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Despite the fact that the congressional redistricting prompted by the 2000 U.S. Census has forced credit unions into the precarious position of choosing between congressional friends in numerous races, the credit union movement is in good shape to expand its influence for the next Congress-no matter which party wins control of the lawmaking process in November.

That's because the major political actors in credit union land have continued to assiduously guard the movement's non-partisanship. Credit union support is still based on where a candidate stands on the issues, not on party affiliation. And that is critical unless the credit union movement wants to find itself on the outside looking in some day with one party considering credit unions an opponent.

But it's also a necessity because with credit unions boasting some 80-million members in all 50 states and every county and municipality in the country, credit unions have an incredibly broad constituency. In fact, if that 80-million figure is true, and I have always had my doubts, that's more people than voted for President Bush in 2000.

Contributions from CUNA's political action committee, by far the movement's largest, through the first 18 months of the two-year election cycle tell an interesting story. While the PAC has given 58% of the $1.2-million in contributions to Republican candidates, it has supported almost as many Democrats (191) as Republicans (203).

Over the past decade CUNA's PAC has grown from a modest one focusing on support of key allies and committee heads to one of the best-funded in the country, able to participate in virtually every congressional race from Maine to Hawaii. The PAC, known as CU Legislative Action Counsel, or CULAC, is on pace to contribute more than $3 million to individual candidates and party committees during the 2001-2002 elections, positioning it as one of the most powerful in the nation's capital. This has helped expand the credit union network on Capitol Hill, where money is known as the "mother's milk" of politics.

The narrow control of Congress-Democrats control the Senate by just one seat and Republicans the House by 11 seats-gives credit unions and CUNA a major opportunity to shape the next Congress. Credit union involvement in only a handful of close races could determine which party controls the legislative agenda next Congress.

The breadth of the credit union constituency makes the credit union movement a good test tube to study this year's congressional redistricting, as credit unions are involved in some way or another in every race in the country. It is interesting to see where and in what states new congressional seats have been created and where they have been eliminated and how the credit union lobby has decided to play those races. Also interesting is those races where redistricting has forced credit unions to choose between proven allies, and why. The credit union movement, mostly CUNA and its state league affiliates, is also involved in some 50 races where new candidates will emerge, building relationships with future lawmakers from the ground floor. But the emergence of CUNA as one of the most active PACs in the nation will also have the unintended effect of creating some enmity among those candidates who are elected in the face of credit union-supported opposition in November. It's a political tightrope the leading credit union trade group is forced to walk.

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