Cooking Up Success at GAC

The GAC’s ‘big voice’ is delivering results.

April 11, 2011

Bring 4,000 credit union people to Washington, stir in plenty of juicy information and guidance about critical issues, spice it up with some passion, slide it into the oven of intense congressional visits over two days, and what do you get?

Results—fresh legislation garnished with hot headlines and a slice of satisfaction.

That’s the recipe and product of the 2011 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC), which concluded in early March after four concentrated days of grassroots action by the nation’s credit unions in Washington.

A real pat on the back and an enthusiastic “thank you” are due for all those credit union leaders—volunteers and staff—who attended the GAC. Without their passion, no such accomplishments would have come about.

The accomplishments are remarkable. Consider that within two weeks of the GAC’s conclusion:

  • Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., introduced legislation to increase the credit unions’ authority to make business loans. Soon after, 15 senators from both sides of the political aisle had signed on as co-sponsors.
  • Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced a bill delaying implementation of the debit interchange law, noting “it’s not going to do for the consumer what folks
  • thought it would do when it was passed.”

These two results alone justified not only the expense participants incurred in attending the meeting, but the assertion that credit unions work best when they work together—unified toward common goals.

But the issues of expanded business lending authority and delaying what could be a devastating limit on debit interchange revenue make up only half of our movement’s 2011 legislative priorities. The other half includes securing supplemental capital for credit unions and protecting credit unions’ tax-exempt status.

The meeting caught the attention of national, political, and financial press, generating reports on the key issues of interchange and business lending from the Associated Press, TheWall Street Journal/Dow Jones, Politico, and others.

Story after story noted that “4,000 credit union people were in Washington this week” to lend their voices on these critical issues.

We used this forum to unveil—a website developed in partnership with CUNA and the leagues. The site’s goal is to help credit unions build their membership—primarily through the only national credit union locator that includes all
credit unions in its database, regardless of location, charter, or membership.

But none of this would have been possible without the efforts of the thousands of credit union people who joined us in Washington in early March.

It was their effort and their
unified “big voice” that focused
the attention of Congress on our key issues—a voice that had to be heard.

It was also the dedication, passion, and zeal of these leaders that drove home the impact of the issues on credit unions and their members in personal ways.

This “big voice” is vital to our future success. No doubt, we’ll likely need to raise it again, perhaps very soon. These issues, and our other priorities, hold much more work ahead for all of us.

We may not hold another big meeting in Washington this year, but today’s methods of communicating give us many options to express our voice in other effective ways.

That’s a top priority for me: To build our voice and use it effectively throughout the year on these issues and more, reaching into every congressional office.

Some say cooking is an art form. But, as a great cook once said, it’s really just a means for providing a reasonable diet. Credit unions working together cooked up some solid success in conjunction with our GAC. What credit unions did might not have been art, but it certainly was the means to ensure a healthy future.

BILL CHENEY is CUNA’s president/CEO.