From left, Trey Hawkins, CUNA's deputy chief advocacy officer, political action, Abby Truhart, political director, and Andy Byun, political program manager, discuss how CUNA and the Credit Union Legislative Council (CULAC) support credit union-friendly candidates.

Advocating for credit unions

CULAC works to find a voice, create priorities to support credit union champions.

March 3, 2021

Finding candidates who support credit unions has always been important, but perhaps never has it been so critical to identify credit union-friendly candidates as during the most recent election cycle.

“It should come as no surprise to anyone that we’re living through one of the most highly charged, politicized, and partisan times in our nation’s history,” says Trey Hawkins, CUNA’s deputy chief advocacy officer, political action. “How can we best advocate for credit unions in these divisive times?”

Hawkins led a panel discussion that discussed Credit Union Legislative Action Council (CULAC) and how it works to advance credit unions’ advocacy agenda during a breakout session Wednesday at the 2021 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference.

CULAC is CUNA’s political action committee, an organization responsible for raising and spending money to elect credit union-friendly candidates to office. Regulated by the Federal Elections Commission, it creates opportunities for individuals to engage politically beyond voting and is a vehicle to present a united voice, says Abby Truhart, political director for CUNA.

CULAC works with CUNA, league partners, and credit unions to establish spending budgets, identify candidates to support, and engage with lawmakers

“It’s important to find your lane, find your voice, and create priorities in spending so that donations really have the impact we’re looking to achieve,” Truhart says.

‘It’s important to find your lane, find your voice, and create priorities in spending so that donations really have the impact we’re looking to achieve.’
Abby Truhart

During the 2020 election cycle, CULAC ranked as one of the most bipartisan groups and focused on the credit union philosophy of “people helping people.” CULAC raised $5.4 million and, together with CUNA, invested $7 million in candidates—including $3.8 million in direct contributions to candidates. Three hundred eighty-seven CULAC-backed candidates won, and 37 new credit union champions were seated in the 117th Congress, says Andy Byun, political program manager for CUNA.

“Our issues are nonpartisan. We want to lift up small businesses. We want to make sure people are financially well and financially secure,” says Byun. “Our issues appeal to everyone in Congress and our contributions reflect that.”

The panel also examined two campaigns where CULAC-backed candidates won because of CULAC support.

  • Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) retained his seat after $500,000 was spent on a focused digital and direct mail campaign that targeted internet protocol (IP) address-matched voters in the suburban Detroit, Lansing, and Grand Rapids area. Digital messages were delivered through pre-roll and streaming services and reached priority households across multiple devices. Five pieces of direct mail were sent to those who were targeted but unable to be reached online, says Jack Quigley, managing partner at Elevated Campaigns and Public Affairs.
  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) was trailing in mid-2020 but won reelection by 15,000 votes after a targeted campaign that focused on suburban female credit union members between the ages of 35 and 55. The campaign featured six direct mail pieces and a digital campaign. The digital campaign exceeded expectations and had above average video completion rates. Overall, the campaign reached 70,000 voters, says Trey Richardson, managing partner, Sagac Public Affairs and GR Pro.

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