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The credit union movement stepped out on the national stage last week at the Democratic National Convention.

Teams of lobbyists from CUNA, NAFCU and a few other groups could be seen here hosting parties, glad-handing Democratic Party pols, dancing late into the night with Capitol Hill staffers, and even taking batting practice at Boston's legendary Fenway Park.

Democratic leaders spent the week citing references to Boston's American icons: the American revolution, the battleship USS Constitution, the Minutemen of revolutionary war fame, the Freedom Trail, and the birthplace of President John F. Kennedy. The birthplace of American democracy was one phrase heard often.

Dan Eagan, president of the Massachusetts CU League, making the rounds of the convention's many receptions, added another phrase, noting that Boston is also the birthplace of the American credit union movement. "Boston is a natural place for the Democratic Convention," said Egan. "It's the birthplace of democracy and the birthplace of credit unions," referring to the work of Edward Filene, the Boston department store magnate credited with starting America's credit union movement. The Massachusetts league and CUNA were to be in on history on the convention's final night, hosting the first joint official reception for presidential nominee John Kerry and his running mate John Edwards, following Kerry's keynote address to the convention Thursday night, one of many events sponsored by CUNA last week.

Little Feat & The Goo Goo Dolls

On Monday night, NAFCU held a party and concert by rock band Little Feat at a Fanueil Hall watering hole called Ned Devine's The next night it was CUNA's turn, sponsoring a show by the rock band the Goo Goo Dolls. The credit union battle of the bands was sandwiched between shows by the rock band U2, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, the Boston Pops Orchestra, rocker John Mellencamp, pop singer Natalie Merchant and country and western's Martina McBride,

On Wednesday, the Michigan CU League gave a brief pep talk to Michigan's delegation, one of the biggest at the convention. Patrick LaPine, chief lobbyist for the league, stressed the common agendas for credit unions and the Democrats, on financial services for the underserved, affordable housing, expansion of financial literacy, and the fight against predatory lending. Afterwards, LaPine and CUNA lobbyist Gary Kohn got a private meeting with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who offered to work with credit unions on their shared agendas.

There were fundraisers, breakfasts with key lawmakers and lobbyists, cocktail receptions, and late-night concerts. "This is a great way to meet with and talk to some of the same people you may see in Washington, but in a more informal way," explained NAFCU lobbyist Bill Donovan, of the Red Sox-Yankees major league baseball game he attended with key lawmakers on behalf of the Democratic Leadership Council.

"It's a chance to meet with community leaders and political leaders and influence legislation, to let them know who we are," said John Milazzo, president of Campus FCU, in Baton Rouge, La., and a member of the NAFCU board, who was at the convention with his wife, a Democratic delegate.

And there was stargazing for celebrity Democrats. CUNA lobbyist John McKechnie said he saw network newscaster Maria Schriver, a member of Boston's Kennedy family, though without her husband, California's Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Erica Anderson, who helps run NAFCU's political action committee, went to a reception for movie star Ben Affleck, a Boston native.

And there was money, lots of money changing hands at the convention. To quote a song from NAFCU's band, Little Feat, "The money flowed like wine." The Democratic National Committee and its offshoots were expected to raise as much as $50 million from corporate interests, while individual candidates are working to raise millions more for their campaigns. Bank of America, which just bought Boston's only major bank, FleetFinancial, is one of three donors to give $1.5 million (Boston-based Fidelity Investments and Raytheon Corp. are the others). Organizations like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have contributed up to $350,000 to the host committee. The credit union lobby also opened its wallets here. CUNA contributed $25,000 to the host committee and was planning to spend as much as $100,000 sponsoring events and other expenses during the convention. And NAFCU expected to spend as much as $50,000 during the events.

Who Was On Hand

Other CU reps included Francois Henriquez, chief counsel for U.S. Central CU; Michael Canning, head of the Association of Corporate CUs; Mike Beall, president of the Maryland CU League; Rod Staatz, president of (Maryland) State Employees CU; MaryAnn Clancy, chief lobbyist for the Massachusetts CU League; Gene Foley, new chairman of the Massachusetts league; NAFCU directors Larry Wilson of Coastal FCU, Mike Vadala of The Summit FCU, and Diane Furnas of Southwest Airlines FCU; and Chris Kerecman of the California CU League.

To organizers and attendees of the events, the prominence of credit unions at the national convention left a major impression. "I think what this shows is credit unions are here and we're players," said Thaler.

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