Donations to politicians who support credit union causes show that the industry's credo "People helping people" holds true in the political realm.
This year the industry's largest political action committee expects to dole out $700,000 to more than 200 candidates deemed friendly to credit unions. The Credit Union Legislative Action Committee had disbursed $574,003 of that total through Oct. 19, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
"Our philosophy is to elect credit union friends to Congress because we're not going to have to work as hard to educate them about what makes credit unions unique," said John McKechnie, director of the PAC, which is sponsored by the Credit Union National Association.
The industry's most favored lawmakers sit on the banking committees and the House Ways and Means Committee -- the panel responsible for drafting any legislation taxing credit unions.
The association's PAC gave the maximum contribution of $10,000 to Sen. Paul Sarbanes, the Maryland Democrat who is expected to succeed retiring Sen. Donald Riegle as chairman of the Senate Banking Committee if his party retains control of the body.
"He's a very good friend, and he holds a very prominent position," Mr. McKechnie said. Sen. Sarbanes is expected to win handily, but that's not the case for all of the industry's boosters.
"We seem to have a more cranky electorate this year," Mr. McKechnie said. "Some of our friends are in tough races."
The trade group's PAC also contributed $10,000 to Rep. Larry LaRocco, an Idaho Democrat who sits on the House Banking Committee and has spoken to some credit union trade group conventions. Already in a hard fight to win a third tenn, allegations of sexual discrimination surfaced recently against Rep. LaRocco.
Two allies on the House Ways and Means Committee -- acting chairman Sam M. Gibbons, DFla., and Rep. Sander Levin, DMich., also are facing tough reelection battles, Mr. McKechnie said. They're receiving $2,000 and $1,500, respectively. Credit unions also are loyal and refuse to play both sides of the fence.
"If we expect people to stand by us, it's unrealistic to hedge our bets," Mr. McKechnie said. "It's the wrong thing to do."
CUNA contributed $6,000 to Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the indicted former Ways and Means chairman who has frequently defended the industry's tax exemption.
It also has shelled out $10,000 for Sen. Hams Wofford, the Pennsylvania Democrat who is in a fight race for a second tenn. "He's very close to the Pennsylvania League people, and he's been very supportive," Mr. McKechnie said.
CUNA's PAC is one of the country's 70 largest, but much smaller than bankers' political action committees. Credit unions balance that out with people power, Mr. McKechnie said. "We can never match the bankers dollar for dollar," he noted, "but we have considerable grass-roots involvement to make sure we are a visible and active constituency."
Thirty-four leagues are involved in congressional races, in activities ranging from making phone calls to ringing doorbells. For example, the California Credit Union League recently worked phone banks 15 nights for Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif.
Not content merely to have supporters in Congress, credit unions also are trying to sweep two of their own into open seats in the House of Representatives.
Roger Wicker, a former credit union board member, is running in Mississippi, while credit union founder Frank Mascara is campaigning in Pennsylvania; Mr. Wicker received $2,000 and Mr. Mascara received $1,000 from CUNA.
In contrast to CUNA, the National Association of Federal Credit Unions Political Action Committee has disbursed a comparatively paltry $70,543 to about 50 candidates.