The main event on the credit union social calendar took place in Washington recently, and the American Bankers Association did its best to crash the party.

As hordes of credit-union conventioneers arrived in the nation's capital for the Credit Union National Association's annual conference, the ABA lashed out with a lobbying campaign attacking credit unions' federal tax exemption.

In addition to running classic inside-the-Beltway print and radio ads, the ABA hand-delivered to each member of Congress a brochure on the trade group's position. The message: credit unions have outgrown their original mission and are now indistinguishable from banks—aside, of course, from paying no federal taxes.

The brochure names a handful of credit unions that have been living the high life, building "extravagant" new headquarters, paying for stadium naming rights and issuing "big toy loans" to help wealthy customers finance yachts and private jets.

With thousands of credit-union leaders in town to mingle with lawmakers and discuss policy, the campaign was intended to "make their conversations more difficult," Frank Keating, the ABA's CEO, said in a memo to his association's board.

Trade groups have been bickering about credit unions' tax status for years. But for now, the ABA's dream of getting Congress to remove the exemption remains just that.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp, R-Mich., said in late February that a draft tax-reform bill would not address the exemption issue.

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