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On August 7, 1998, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Credit Union Membership Access Act (H.R. 1151).
This followed a massive, 17-month advocacy campaign: The Credit Union Campaign for Consumer Choice.
A coalition of credit union and cooperative organizations launched the campaign after a Supreme Court decision severely limited credit unions’ fields of membership.
Lobbying efforts involved thousands of credit union members signing petitions and rallying in Washington, D.C., and other cities, urging Congress to produce legislation that would allow for the expansion of credit unions’ fields of membership.
Although H.R. 1151 passed the House on a 411-8 vote and in the Senate on a 92-6 vote, the outcome was anything but certain during the campaign.
At the time, CUNA Chief Advocacy Officer Ryan Donovan was a congressional staffer working for House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt, D-MO, as his legislative correspondent.
“In this role, I was responsible for reading and coding all of the mail we received, and then preparing responses to it,” Donovan says. “So, in a very literal sense, I was on the receiving end of credit unions’ grassroots activity.
“Let me put the volume and impact of the H.R. 1151 grassroots in context: At the same time credit unions were beating on Congress to fix the adverse court ruling, Congress was deep into the impeachment exercise,” he continues. “We were getting two sets of letters: letters on either side of impeachment and letters from credit unions asking for this legislation. The mail was overwhelming, and you could really feel the passion on the part of credit union advocates who would come in the office and walk the halls.
“It made a huge impression on me as a young congressional staffer.”
Tuesday, August 7 marks the 20th anniversary of H.R. 1151. Stay tuned for interviews with those involved in this fight and insights about how this legislation—and the advocacy behind it—has affected today’s credit union movement.