Ryan Donovan, CUNA Chief Advocacy Officer

A new world for advocacy

The CUNA-League advocacy team is poised for success in 2022.

February 18, 2022

Given the wide-ranging events of 2021—the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the inauguration of a new president, a new party assuming control of both chambers of Congress—Ryan Donovan knew it would be “a new world” for advocacy and credit unions.

“The good news is we were well positioned to succeed in 2021—and we did,” says Donovan, CUNA’s chief advocacy officer. “There’s a lot to be proud of up and down our advocacy agenda.”


  • The IRS reporting issue was a major advocacy win for the CUNA-League advocacy team.
  • Advocacy efforts will focus more on preserving credit unions’ role as financial intermediaries.
  • Board focus: Legislators’ response to credit unions’ focus on financial well-being for all has been both positive and bipartisan.

He revisits some advocacy wins from 2021, highlights top CUNA-League priorities, and shares how priorities and advocacy approaches may shift in 2022.

Credit Union Magazine: What were some of your advocacy wins in 2021?

Ryan Donovan: It starts with the work we’ve done on the IRS reporting issue.

The prospect of getting an IRS reporting provision out of a major spending bill was daunting. This provision would have required credit unions and other depositories to track and report funds going in and out of accounts above $600, including breakdowns for cash. It was designed to improve tax enforcement and pay for about a quarter of what began as a $3 trillion spending bill.

The Democrats in Congress really wanted to pay for this bill, which made it tough to advocate against a big chunk of how they were going to pay for it. We had to make it politically uncomfortable, and that’s what we did with credit unions, leagues, and members sending more than 800,000 messages to Congress.

When the spending bill went to the floor, it didn’t include the provision. We’re not quite out of the woods yet, but we’re confident we’ll be OK.

That in and of itself would be a successful year, but so much else went right for us last year, too. The thought that Congress would consider a $3 trillion tax bill on top of a $250 billion spending bill on top of everything spent on COVID without a whisper of changing the credit union tax status is remarkable.

We had a huge win in the Supreme Court on the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and we had Community Reinvestment Act legislation introduced in Congress that specifically exempts credit unions. We also got two hearings on a bill that would allow credit unions to do more to serve underserved areas.

Q: Were there any surprises last year?

A: The IRS issue was a surprise. At the beginning of the year, that proposal hadn’t been put on paper and it wasn’t on our radar. 

Another surprise has been NCUA’s reaction to some of the impacts COVID has had on credit unions. Many credit unions have seen their capital levels fall because of the government stimulus funds going into members’ accounts. 

That indicates NCUA doesn’t have all the tools it needs to help credit unions through what we expect will be a temporary situation.

We have encouraged the agency to ask Congress for tools that would allow them to forbear prompt corrective action for otherwise healthy credit unions whose capital levels have degraded because of government stimulus.

Q: How might your advocacy priorities and approach shift in 2022?

A: Credit unions want us to focus more on preserving their role as financial intermediaries. While fintech companies want to take market share from credit unions and small banks, they’re trying to disintermediate the financial system.

Plus, 2022 is a special election year in that it will take place after redistricting. So, new congressional lines are being drawn. In some cases this will pit members of Congress, perhaps some credit union friends, against each other.

And we’ve seen a significant number of retirements, so many open seats will be subject to election. The election year will start sooner in some ways, and it may have already started in terms of Congress slowing down its activity.

In 2022, we don’t expect Congress to do much more than what’s essential to keep the government running. So we need to measure our expectations about what we can accomplish.

‘We succeed because credit unions knock it out of the park for their members.’
Ryan Donovan

Q: How have legislators responded to credit unions’ focus on Financial Well-Being for All™?

A: The response has been both positive and bipartisan. The work credit unions do to improve members’ financial well-being and advance their communities is the 21st-century way to articulate our mission.

By law, credit unions’ mission is to promote thrift and provide access to credit for provident purposes. That’s what financial well-being is all about. We get a positive reaction from policymakers when we look at issues through that lens.

One bill we’re working on, the Expanding Financial Access for Underserved Communities Act, would allow federally chartered credit unions to serve underserved areas and would exempt business loans made in underserved areas from the member business lending cap. 

It also expands the definition of “underserved area” to include any location that is more than 10 miles from the branch of a depository institution.

We want to make sure credit unions can serve the nation’s rural banking deserts. We’ve had a positive reaction on this legislation from both sides of the aisle in ways we haven’t seen in the past.

House Democrats put it forward in two congressional hearings, which set us up nicely to try to move it through the Financial Services Committee so it could be included on a must-pass piece of legislation. And this would be a free-market alternative to postal banking, which attracts Republican support and helps us in the long term.

Q: What are the prospects for credit union charter enhancements in 2022?

A: This underserved bill would be part of that, and we’ve been working on a couple of other bills, too. One is the Credit Union Governance Modernization Act, which would make it easier for federal credit unions to expel disruptive members. That moved through the House Financial Services Committee recently.

We also have legislation to increase the maturity limit of federal credit union loans. We’ll try to get these bills as far as we can, let them ripen, and attach them to must-pass legislation.

“Ripening” starts with having the right sponsors for the legislation, taking it through the committee process, and getting a good vote. Getting legislation through the House Financial Services Committee on a voice vote is as strong a message you can get that a bill is not controversial.

NEXT: Telling the credit union story

Q: In what new ways will you tell the credit union story?

A: There’s a huge temptation to say, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But any good advocacy strategy is subject to evolution. We’ve had a lot of success with our 360-degree advocacy, and there’s no reason to back off it.

We want to determine the best way to advocate in a post-pandemic environment. The Capitol has been closed for almost two years.

Some leagues brought folks to D.C. for Hike the Hill, but much of that work is still done virtually. We’ll have a bunch of credit union advocates in Washington for the CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC), and we’ll be engaging with lawmakers. But it will look and feel much different than it has in the past.

It’s a question of what we need to change to meet lawmakers and policymakers where they are while we’re presenting the best message to Congress. We want to make sure credit union advocates tell a unified story and that we’re advocating in close partnership with our state leagues. None of that needs to change.

The pandemic closed the Capitol, but that’s not what’s keeping it closed. There are significant security concerns following the events of Jan. 6, 2021, and that’s the key driver in why it is extraordinarily difficult to get into the Capitol or the Capitol office buildings. 

Before the pandemic, congressional offices operated similarly in that they accepted meetings from constituents, were excited to see them, and would put 20 people in a room designed for three. It was an open and welcoming environment. 

In 2022 and beyond, some congressional offices will prefer to meet virtually, limit the number of people who come into the office, or hold meetings off the Capitol campus. That will affect our short- and long-term advocacy.

Q: What would advocacy success look like at the end of 2022?

A: I would like to advance our charter enhancements or at least get some bills a little further through the process, if not into law. That sets us up nicely for the next Congress and gives us a running head start. 

The first year of [President Joe] Biden’s administration from a regulatory perspective has been slower than we anticipated—there haven’t been many new rules proposed or issued that are detrimental to credit unions. Keeping that pace slow would be success.

Q: Do you expect many consumer-related regulations to arise?

A: Yes, that’s one of the bigger threats to credit unions and how they serve members. We are the original consumer financial protectors. We’re member-owned, which imparts a lot of consumer protections. 

It becomes complicated when you have bureaucrats in Washington constantly changing the rules. Overdraft protection, for example, is something members opt into and that credit unions provide fairly. When you make it more complicated and add rules to it, you make it more difficult to provide.

That’s a specific concern we have, but it’s thematic of our broader concern with changes in consumer protection regulation. When the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) was created, we were told it wouldn’t have any impact on credit unions. We knew that wouldn’t be the case because anytime a rule is changed it impacts credit unions.

When credit unions must spend more money to comply with rules coming out of Washington, they’re providing fewer resources to members.

We have a new CFPB director. As he gets his feet under him, I expect a more robust rulemaking agenda. 

Overdraft litigation is a big threat because it can set policy through the courts as opposed to the regulators or Congress. 

Another threat comes from NCUA. It has to do with Chairman Todd Harper’s desire to raise the normal operating level of the share insurance fund significantly higher than Congress thinks it ought to be. 

Congress has said clearly it should be at 1.3% of insured shares. Chairman Harper has indicated he wants the authority to take it much higher than that. Again, that’s literally taking money out of credit union members’ pockets. It’s misguided and unnecessary.

Q: How did bank attacks change during 2021 and how will they evolve in the months ahead?

A: They haven’t evolved much. As best as I can tell, their strategy is to throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks. 

They reflexively oppose every charter enhancement or charter normalization bill we put forward, wanting us to operate like it’s 1934 when the banking industry doesn’t look anything like it did in 1934—or even 10 years ago. A natural evolution needs to take place with any charter.

We succeed because credit unions knock it out of the park for their members. When we share what credit unions are doing, policymakers understand the credit union tax status is one of the best investments they make on behalf of their constituents.

We’re in a good place because we’re fulfilling our mission, improving members’ financial well-being, and advancing the communities we serve. That’s the essence of the tax status.

Q: What do you look forward to most about GAC?

A: Seeing people. The 2020 CUNA GAC was one of the last normal things we did before the pandemic. I’m hoping it will be one of the first normal things we do in the post-pandemic environment.

This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Credit Union Magazine. Subscribe here.