Our Record-Setting Election Effort

CUNA stood with friends, win or lose, regardless of their political affiliation.

December 13, 2010

This is my first column as Credit Union National Association (CUNA) president/CEO, where I’ll offer timely insights and commentary on what CUNA is doing and thinking.

November’s election seems like an ideal jumping-off point. It was a strong example of our commitment—and that of the leagues and credit unions—to take an active, prominent role in the political process.

Our combined involvement was record-setting and a key to the future, especially given the election results.

Our strategy is simple: Build a future base of support for credit unions in Congress, and then gather and expend the resources to make it happen.

The numbers tell the story: We spent more than $2.7 million for candidates who supported credit unions and our issues. We supported 358 House candidates in the general election (out of 435 running), and 31 Senate candidates (out of 37).

What’s more important, we devoted more than $1.1 million for direct communications to voters in support (and only in support—we don’t go negative) of federal candidates. That’s a record for the credit union movement.

Of that, two-thirds were “independent expenditures” (dollars we spent independently of the candidates and their campaigns) for specific candidates who support credit unions and our issues—in contests where we believed our involvement could make a difference.

The balance was spent on CUNA/league/credit union “partisan communications”—direct communication pieces to credit union members, in selected groups, backing our electoral champions.

In fact, we generated more than one million pieces of direct mail to voters in support of candidates—more than 400,000 directly to credit union households (for partisan communications), and more than 600,000 targeted to likely voters (through “independent expenditures”).

We support candidates based on input from credit unions in the states in which the candidates are running. Overall, the results have been favorable: We posted a success rate of more than 90% in helping elect credit union supporters, or keeping in office those who had shown us their support.

We did lose some close races and friends, but not for lack of trying. We were disappointed that longtime credit union champion Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., is leaving Congress. He spent 26 exemplary years working for his country and state in representing the citizens of the 11th District—and, along the way, took the time to listen to credit unions and help advocate our views to his colleagues in Congress. Our deepest thanks to him for his past support; he will be missed.

The November midterm election no doubt was a GOP wave, making it difficult for Democrats in marginal districts and states to hold on. But we stood with our friends, win or lose, regardless of their political affiliation. Again, this showed to the political community the value of supporting credit unions.

By expanding our election operations to record levels, we successfully brought to Congress more members who know and support credit unions than ever before.

And, perhaps above all, we showed our commitment to being involved at the highest levels in the political process.

In short, we’re building the base of support that we hope will serve us in the future.

Now our focus turns to working with the new Congress and the administration on credit union interests.

Obtaining alternative capital for credit unions is critical, as is reducing credit unions’ regulatory burden. We’ll remain on the lookout for any challenge to credit unions’ tax exemption—and meet the challenge quickly and forcefully.

In successive columns, I’ll discuss our growing political action, as well as my personal commitment to the movement to bolster its grassroots power in pursuit of our goals.

I look forward to continuing these conversations with you.

BILL CHENEY is president/CEO of the Credit Union National Association.