WASHINGTON (3/23/12)--Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Vice President of Political Affairs Trey Hawkins and other panelists discussed how credit unions can engage and motivate their members to elect new credit union champions to Congress in a Credit Union National Association Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) breakout session.
Trey Hawkins, CUNA vice president of political affairs, said CUNA and credit union leagues find it easier to work with political candidates for the benefit of credit unions when the credit unions they are serving are also active in the political process. Also pictured, from right to left, are: Gwinnett FCU President/CEO R. Marshall Boutwell, Valley CU CEO Jean Wheat-Palm, and Mountain West CU Association President/CEO Scott Earl. (CUNA Photo)
Jean Wheat-Palm, CEO of Salem, Ore.-based Valley CU, and R. Marshall Boutwell, president/CEO of Athens, Ga.-based Gwinnet FCU, joined Hawkins on the breakout session panel, which was moderated by Mountain West Credit Union Association President/CEO Scott Earl.
Overall, Hawkins said, CUNA's strategy is to support credit union supporters.
One such supporter, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), met with Wheat-Palm and other Oregon credit union representatives early in her campaign, and the support of credit unions, which came in the form of donations and volunteerism, pushed her on to a special election win earlier this year. Bonamici has continued to support credit unions following her election, making herself a co-sponsor of member business lending cap increase bill (H.R. 1418) within an hour of having been sworn in. Bonamici has continued to communicate with credit unions in her district, Wheat-Palm noted.
If legislators find themselves in competitive races, they will want more support, and credit union advocates can work with those legislators to develop credit union friends out of someone that may have originally been "middle of the road" on credit union issues, Boutwell added.
Some credit unions can be tentative, at first, to become politically involved, due to potential issues with membership, the panelists said, but working with elected officials can be beneficial.
Boutwell cited the positive example of first-term U.S. House member Rob Woodall (R-Ga.), who he said understands credit union issues and has "turned out to be one heck of a credit union friend." Woodall is also a current MBL bill sponsor.
The panelists noted, however, that it takes coordination from all levels, CUNA, state credit union leagues, and individual credit unions, to recognize the full benefit of political advocacy.
CUNA, Leagues and credit unions teamed up this week to take the credit union message to Capitol Hill, as credit union advocates targeted all 535 offices of the House and Senate for meetings. (See related story: Strength in numbers shows in CUs' Hill visits)