It's easier to rally people when they have a shared connection. That was readily apparent when the White House proposed increased IRS reporting for financial institutions in 2021 and the advocacy army sprang into action.
Formed in 2018 to help tell credit unions’ story and add another dimension to advocacy efforts, the advocacy army played a role in sending more than 800,000 emails to Capitol Hill to oppose a provision requiring financial institutions to report transaction activity to the IRS.
The proposal would have required financial institutions to report account inflows and outflows of more than $600, which CUNA considered an unprecedented overreach of the federal government that also would have created numerous cybersecurity concerns.
CUNA and the leagues issued an action alert in September calling on advocates to comment on the proposal. This led to the biggest campaign in the history of CUNA’s Member Activation Program (MAP), with more than 175 credit unions using the email and social media resources the program provides to engage members in advocacy.
“It’s definitely the largest grassroots push for the credit union movement since the days of Don’t Tax My Credit Union. But as far as the rate of activation and how quickly we generated contacts, it was quicker,” says Adam Engelman, CUNA’s director of federal and grassroots programs. “This shows the work we’ve been doing to strengthen MAP and build relationships with these credit unions.”
CUNA President/CEO Jim Nussle also credits the CUNA-League advocacy team’s 360-degree advocacy, as well as the fact that some issues resonate more than others. The IRS provision struck a chord with credit union professionals, members, and directors.
“There was more media coverage on this specific provision, and a lot of members were asking tellers about it,” Engelman says. “We provided talking points so people could educate their staff when they’d get questions or calls from their members.”
Credit union professionals, board advocates, members, two letters from House Republicans, and a letter from House Democrats delivered the message that they opposed the provision.
The White House removed the language, which was part of the Build Back Better Reconciliation Bill, in late October. The House passed the bill in mid-November without the IRS language.
“That was a massive success for everyone,” Engelman says. “It wouldn’t have been possible without credit unions responding, getting active, and talking to their members about this.”
The advocacy army played a big role in defeating the IRS provision, and it plays a major role in all advocacy efforts. As constituents who are deeply committed to credit unions and who serve without pay, directors make a big impression on legislators when delivering advocacy messages.
Gary Chizmadia, board chair at $421 million asset Credit Union of New Jersey in Ewing, N.J., has been an advocate for about 15 years. He is heavily involved in the CrossState Credit Union Association and frequently talks to senators and representatives over the phone and during the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, D.C.
Chizmadia says advocacy means explaining that credit unions are here to stay, they’re here to assist people, and they need lawmakers’ support.
“It’s about getting involved, jumping in, and doing whatever needs to be done,” he says. “When I bring a new person on the board, I don’t really care what they know or don’t know. My main thing is passion.”
The advocacy army focuses directors’ passion and energy in the right direction by arming them with information and talking points.
“A lot of times representatives want to hear what directors have to say more than professionals,” Chizmadia says. “Directors have a story and they’re not getting paid.”
Engelman agrees credit union directors and members can make a bigger impact with legislators. He believes the advocacy army has improved CUNA’s efforts to collect member stories and use them to advocate for credit union priorities.
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