The Time For Credit Union Political Activism Is Now

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This week, a number of key federal policymakers and their credit union constituents will be in one place-NAFCU's Congressional Caucus at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington. As part of the Caucus, over 400 credit union representatives will be on hand to help make sure that the credit union voice is heard on Capitol Hill before this November's national elections are held, the 108th Congress ends and lawmakers start preparing for the 109th Congress in January 2005.

Last month I had the opportunity to represent NAFCU at the Republican National Convention in New York. The NAFCU Board has recognized that we are entering a crucial time for credit unions and that political action and activism is as important now as it's ever been. That is why NAFCU significantly increased its presence and role at both the Democratic National Convention in Boston and the Republican National Convention in New York, and why I am writing this article to encourage your participation in the political process.

The 109th Congress that is seated in January 2005 will present both challenges and opportunities for the credit union community. As the bankers step up their attacks on credit unions with ever-increasing intensity, there is no reason to believe that they will subside next year with many new members of Congress and possible changes in some congressional leadership posts. Responding to the inaccuracies of the banker attacks will remain a challenge in the next Congress and undoubtedly beyond.

Credit unions will have great opportunities in the next Congress as well, such as moving forward regulatory relief legislation. While a comprehensive regulatory relief package with many credit union provisions has already passed the House of Representatives in the 108th Congress, it is not likely that it will get any further than being introduced in the Senate this year.

Still, this would represent a significant step for a bill that was only introduced for the first time in the last Congress. Many think that the groundwork has been laid to get regulatory relief through Congress and signed by the president in the 109th Congress.

The 108th Congress also began work on the most significant credit union bill since H.R. 1151, the Credit Union Regulatory Improvements Act or CURIA. This legislation was the subject of a hearing focused solely on credit union issues in the House Financial Services Committee, and the bill has continued to gain bipartisan support.

Our work on these two key pieces of legislation and other important issues such as bankruptcy reform is, however, not done. Nor does it end when the 108th Congress adjourns for the year. The work must continue at each and every credit union through November, December and right into January and the beginning of the 109th Congress.

Make sure that the leaders of your credit union are talking to the congressional candidates in your district. Now is the time to see that they are aware of credit union issues. You can bet that the bankers are making their case against credit unions. It is critical to have the credit union voice heard in this year's election and immediately thereafter. While NAFCU can, and does, do a lot in Washington, it is most effective when lawmakers hear from the credit unions back in their districts about all of the good things they are doing to serve their members.

Remember that you and your members are constituents. Encourage your members to register and vote (NAFCU's Web site, www.nafcu.org, has helpful information on the elections and voter registration). It is the No. 1 way that you can make sure that your credit union is politically active. Following the elections, meet with your member of Congress in the district and invite him or her to visit your credit union.

Making sure that your credit union is politically active will pay tremendous dividends later when the 109th Congress convenes. NAFCU devotes a great deal of time to building relationships on Capitol Hill, but lawmakers always place the greatest importance on relationships with constituents, not trade associations.

Credit union leaders should consider it their responsibility to build strong relationships at home to help the credit union community in its legislative efforts. That way, when lawmakers set the agenda for the 109th Congress, they will have credit unions in mind.

The responsibility begins with knowing the issues and setting up regular meetings with your legislators back home in the district. It may extend to any districts where you have members or do business. It may include attending fundraising events or volunteering to support campaign efforts this fall and networking with lawmakers and those individuals who are able to get you access to lawmakers in your district.

If we all accept this challenge to be politically active, not just in Washington this week but back home in the coming months and beyond, the 109th Congress can be a great opportunity for credit unions and one where we will be ready to meet any challenges head on.

So, we continue to stress that it is important for credit union representatives to work with their legislators, get involved, and be politically active and participate in the process. For, as NAFCU has been saying, "Participation is Power."

Bill Cheney is the President/CEO of Xerox FCU, and NAFCU Board Member, Legislative Committee Chair.

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