community banks, American Bankers Association officials laid out a three- pronged strategy to beat back their tax-exempt competitors. The ABA has filed a new legal challenge, is preparing a massive lobbying campaign, and is planning a major public education initiative, trade group officials said at their annual convention earlier this week. "It is a good time for us to fight," ABA president Walter A. Dods said. "It is a good time to educate the courts and Congress." But the campaign isn't scaring the credit union industry. "The bankers' attacks are nothing new," said Mark Wolff, vice president of public affairs at the Credit Union National Association. "They have been going after us for the last few years on Capitol Hill and in the press." On the legal front, the ABA filed a suit early this month asking the court to bar the National Credit Union Administration from permitting occupation-based credit unions from serving employees at more than one company. The new case joins a challenge to the legality of AT&T Family Federal Credit Union, which serves employees from more than 150 companies. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled July 30 that NCUA violated the law when it allowed AT&T Family to expand. The agency has asked the court to reconsider. Michael Helfer, a partner at the Washington law firm of William, Cutler & Pickering and the ABA's chief outside lawyer on credit union issues, said progress on the legal front will be slow because NCUA can appeal all the rulings to the Supreme Court. "We are getting first downs regularly, but it will be a while before we get a score," he said. The lobbying effort will center on a postcard-writing campaign and visits to Capitol Hill by bankers, said William H. Phillips, the ABA's director of policy development. The trade group also is searching for a hard-hitting way to dramatize the credit union industry's unfair advantages, he said. Mr. Phillips said the ABA must recruit to get scores of bankers for congressional visits, noting that credit union trade groups typically bring 100 or more officials to each meeting. He also warned bankers to expect intense lobbying from the credit union industry. "We fully expect this litigation to lead to credit unions and their two trade associations to go to Congress to fix their common bond problem," he said. "They will be banging on the door come Jan. 3 when Congress convenes." Finally, the ABA is planning an education campaign, creating a book that dispels all the "myths" about credit unions. The book claims credit union members are wealthier than the average bank customer. It also notes that credit union dividend payments are not insured by any deposit protection fund. CUNA's Mr. Wolff said his group has distributed more than 70,000 copies of its own booklet explaining the advantages of credit unions, including higher rates on savings accounts.
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