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GAC attendees offered advocacy advice
WASHINGTON (3/20/12)--Attendees of the Credit Union National Association's (CUNA) 2012 Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) received their advocacy marching orders on Monday, with CUNA staff and a guest speaker briefing a packed conference hall on the latest legislative and political issues, and how best to convey the credit union point of view on these matters.

As around 4,000 credit union advocates are preparing to meet with their federal legislators this week, Ryan Donovan, CUNA senior vice president of legislative affairs, said a top issue for credit unions will be working to increase the member business lending (MBL) cap. Bills that would increase the cap to 27.5% of assets, up from 12.25%, are active in both the U.S. House and Senate, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) last week said he was working to bring Sen. Mark Udall's (D-Colo.) MBL bill, S. 509, up for a Senate vote.

Credit union advocates should remind legislators during their visits that credit unions stood by small businesses during the financial crisis, and they should be sure to emphasize that increasing the MBL cap is all about allowing credit unions to help small businesses, Donovan said. Capitol Hill visitors need to tout the safety of MBLs, which have the lowest charge-off and delinquency rates of any loans provided by credit unions, he added.

The only thing standing in the way of an increased MBL cap at this point is opposition from the banking industry that was bailed out during the economic crisis and now all-but refuses to lend to small business owners, Donovan said.

Credit union representatives can also take this opportunity to educate their members of Congress on how statutory restrictions on supplemental capital impact credit unions, and how allowing greater access to capital can help them to help their members, Donovan added. Housing finance reform, ATM fees, cyber security issues and the benefits that the credit union tax status could also be discussed during meetings, he said.

The personal stories of credit union members are vital to any credit union advocacy efforts. "If we don't speak up for credit unions, nobody else is going to do it, and their are plenty who will speak against us," Donovan said.

Brad Fitch, president/CEO of the Congressional Management Foundation and former Capitol Hill staffer, said personal stories involving constituents can truly reach legislators, and help communicate why a legislator should support or oppose an issue.

"I have easily been involved in a thousand decisions that Congress has made and I am telling you that constituents matter more than they think," Fitch said.

"You have the most powerful information that legislators need: how it impacts their constituents," he said, adding that that information is "more important than any congressional research report, and more valuable to them."

Fitch recommended that visiting credit union representatives know what committees their legislators serve on, know what legislation they've introduced, and even know when their picture appears appear in the local newspaper.

"They're really normal people and they like to do a chit chat at the beginning of the meeting," he said. He also suggested advocates communicate frequently with lawmakers to build a relationship.

These advocacy efforts will be even more important as November's federal and state elections approach, and Richard Gose, CUNA's senior vice president of political affairs, said credit unions have a chance to impact races this November, and develop relationships with up and coming legislators that will listen to credit union concerns once they reach office.

Gose added that the loyalty of credit union members can go a long way when credit unions seek support in Congress.

This type of political advocacy can be just as effective on the state level, Pat Sowick, CUNA senior vice president of league relations, said. The relationships that credit unions can develop now, while legislators are in state governmental positions, can reap benefits for years to come as some state legislators move on to federal office, she added.


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