A Powerful Partnership in the State Capitals

CUNA and the leagues work together on state as well as national issues.

December 3, 2012

The press, trade associations, the political world, and even the public focus a great deal of attention these days on Congress and its actions.

And it’s little wonder: Enormous dollars at stake, bombastic rhetoric, and the sharp partisan divide all generate drama.

While CUNA maintains a strong presence before Congress, we also do something with the leagues that nobody else in the credit union advocacy space does (or can do): work on issues before state legislatures as well.

There are many solid reasons why. Did you know that almost half of the members of the last Congress originally came from their state legislatures?

Very often, the work that CUNA and the leagues do with lawmakers in the states before they come to Washington builds strong, friendly relationships that stand the test of their terms at the national level.

In fact, some of our closest allies in the last Congress started as credit union champions in their home states’ legislatures.

The political battles waged in Washington typically begin at the state level. For example, this past year alone, state bank trade associations mounted tax offensives against credit unions in the states of Illinois, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington.

The basis of the banks’ attacks? “Tax evasion” and “unfair competition” by credit unions.

As untrue, contemptible, and laughable as those claims by the banks might be, left unchallenged, no doubt we’d soon be seeing some very similar charges erupting in Washington.

Fortunately, CUNA and the leagues worked in partnership this past year in each of those states to engage the battles, present credit unions’ arguments, and convince state lawmakers the bankers’ assertions are, in fact, false, outrageous, and pitiful.

This gives us a leg up if (or maybe when) bankers raise those or similar claims in a future Congress.

State government also is known, appropriately, as the “laboratory of democracy”—a place where lawmakers test ideas and concepts. Some ideas are terrific for credit unions.

This past year, CUNA and a number of leagues pressed for and won authority for credit unions to accept deposits from municipal entities. This is a power that could, in an environment of low liquidity, present an attractive option for credit unions.

Some ideas are less than ideal, such as changing the mortgage foreclosure process. During the past year, hundreds of state bills out of the 1,000 or so CUNA monitored attempted to alter this complex procedure. If any of these in a state become law, it will affect all mortgage-lending credit unions in the state.

In any event, CUNA and the leagues worked this past year (as they have for many years now) to ensure states offering credit union charters have the most robust charters possible, to preserve the vitality of the dual chartering system, and thus give credit unions a choice in charters that best serve their members’ needs.

Throughout all of this, CUNA and the leagues stay in touch with state lawmakers outside of the legislative process. We engage with them through forums, such as the National Conference of State Legislatures and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Doing so ensures credit unions are at the table at these events (often to counter others sitting alongside us, such as bankers).

All of these continuing (and often behind-the-scenes) efforts by CUNA and your league assure we represent and coordinate our movement’s interests in Washington, D.C. and in the state capitals as well.

Only your national trade association offers this vital coverage at both the federal and state levels. We do it because we strongly believe it guarantees the future of our movement.

BILL CHENEY is CUNA’s president/CEO.