Several Key CUNA Executives Leaving Group To Join NCUA

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The revolving door continued to swing last week between CUNA and NCUA, which was preparing to hire away the trade association's two top congressional lobbyists.

Both chief lobbyist John McKechnie and Executive Vice President Gary Kohn have agreed to join the federal agency as soon as they are cleared through FBI background checks, sources confirmed. Neither would comment on the pending job changes.

McKechnie will replace Cliff Northup, the agency's chief congressional liaison. Several sources indicated that NCUA Chairman JoAnn Johnson was unhappy with Northup's work preparing her for her appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee last month when Johnson took a grilling from Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA), the chairman of the congressional tax-writing panel.

Johnson, however, told The Credit Union Journal that such allegations were untrue and a disservice to Northup's contributions at NCUA. Still, Northup said last week he did not have any other job prospects and was hoping to catch on with the Bush Administration. The same sources said Johnson was also unhappy at being blindsided by angry questioning during hearings earlier this year over NCUA's handling of two controversial credit union conversions to mutual savings banks, Community CU and OmniAmerican CU.

Kohn is expected to be named by new NCUA voard member Gigi Hyland as her top aide. The two worked together when Hyland was at CUNA, representing corporate credit unions.

NCUA would not comment last week on the pending hires.

The departure of CUNA's two top lobbyists not only leaves a void in the credit union lobby just as NAFCU is hunting for a replacement for long-time chief lobbyist Bill Donovan, but also represents a continuing spin of the revolving door between CUNA and NCUA-and a more accelerated one.

In the years following the s&l crisis, when s&l lobbyists were found to have unduly influenced policymaking at their federal regulator, known then as FSLIC, CUNA had been circumspect about such relationships and was even hesitant in endorsing a candidate for the NCUA board. But with FSLIC and the s&l crisis in the rearview mirror, that circumspection has abated.

Hyland, of course worked for the CUNA-affiliated Association of Corporate CUs before going to work as general counsel for Empire Corporate FCU in Albany, N.Y. And Johnson's top aide, Holly Herman, is a former CUNA board member and credit union CEO.

Debbie Matz, who recently departed from the NCUA, hired former CUNA Vice President Steve Bosack as her top aide. Bosack has since returned to the CUNA fold as vice president of its affiliated National CU Foundation.

NCUA Chairman Johnson herself has CUNA ties, having been helped in her campaign for the Iowa state senate by the CUNA-affiliated Iowa CU League, which later championed her as a candidate for the NCUA board.

The departure of McKechnie and Kohn will leave a major void in the lobbying operations of CUNA, which have emerged as signficant influences on Capitol Hill in recent years. McKechnie previously accepted the job as NCUA's congressional liaison for former NCUA Chairman Dennis Dollar three years ago, but changed his mind at the last minute when he was named CUNA's chief lobbyist.

While his appointment will require a pay cut of as much as $30,000 annually, the role as chief congressional representative for a federal agency is expected to add to the resume of McKechnie, who has worked for CUNA for almost 20 years.

Industry sources said his experience on Capitol Hill, especially his close ties with Republican leaders, will help resuscitate NCUA's standing with Congress, which has been eroded recently by the controversy over the credit union conversions and several adverse legal decisions.

Kohn is widely respected as one of the most knowledgeable sources for credit unions about Congress and legislative issues.

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