WASHINGTON Credit unions were generally pleased with Tuesday's election results that gave Republicans control of Congress, but acknowledged they suffered a blow from the loss of one of their most vocal advocates, Sen. Mark Udall.
The Colorado Democrat was a reliable champion for credit union issues, including repeatedly sponsoring legislation to raise the limit for small-business lending.
Ryan Donovan, the legislative head of the Credit Union National Association, said he was "disappointed" that Udall lost his reelection bid, but said the group has a positive relationship with his opponent , Cory Gardner. And that relationship may prove to be beneficial considering the Senate is now in Republican hands.
"Even if [Udall] had won, hed be facing a Senate that has changed party control," Donovan said. "Weve been grateful that hes carried the ball for us on member business lending for several Congresses, and the issue remains a priority and we will continue to pursue it in Congress going forward."
CUNA said it contributed $10,000 directly to Udalls campaign, as well as $22,000 to Udalls political action committee and spent another $400,000 on "partisan communications."
But Udalls support for credit union causes drew the ire of banking groups, which backed Gardner through direct contributions and PACs. That included the Friends of Traditional Banking, a super PAC-like organization first formed ahead of the 2012 election cycle.
"He was the perfect example of what we were so upset about," said Howard Headlee, the head of the Utah Bankers Association and a co-founder of the Friends of Traditional Banking. "He was another senator that felt like he could just keep kicking traditional banks without any consequence and we were tired of it. The enthusiasm for defeating him was one of the significant drivers of our efforts."
Headlee estimated that his group helped direct between $300,000 and $500,000 to Gardner.
Though bankers and others may have helped defeat Udall, however, credit unions say they won other allies in the Senate. Brad Thaler, the head of legislative affairs for the National Association of Federal Credit Unions, hailed victories by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Rep. Gary Peters, D-Mich., both of whom serve on the House Financial Services Committee.
"We have a number of credit union friends coming to the Senate," Thaler said. "Yes, there are some that are leaving the Senate this time, but we look forward to working with all members of Congress."