New faces in Congress are familiar to many CU leagues

November 26, 2014

WASHINGTON (12/1/14)--While there will be many new faces in the U.S. Congress next year, for state credit union leagues around the country the faces aren't so new. Leagues often connect with credit union-friendly candidates at the state legislature level, and as these lawmakers advance to the federal levels, the relationships remain in place.

In Virginia, the Virginia Credit Union League's relationship with Rep.-elect Barbara Comstock (R) began during her days representing the state's 34th District in the state's House of Delegates, where she served on the Commerce and Labor Committee.

"There are a lot of credit unions and credit union members in the district, and we built a relationship early on. She's been very supportive of credit union issues, and more importantly, her door has always been open to us to discuss the issues," said league President/CEO Rick Pillow.

The Mountain West Credit Union Association (MWCUA) connected in a similar fashion with Rep.-elect Ruben Gallego (D) during his initial run for a post in the state legislature.

"When Ruben was running for the Arizona House, people told us we should get in contact with him, and it wasn't long before we endorsed his election to an open seat. We became very close, and by the time he was elected to his second term and was named assistant minority leader, he was someone we could rely on," said Austin De Bey, MWCUA vice president of legislative affairs.

The Credit National Association and MWCUA conducted a partisan communication to support Gallego in the primary election.

"He knows the issues we face as well as any candidate, he knows that credit unions did not cause the financial crisis and that the blanket approach to regulation was having a bigger impact on smaller credit unions," De Bey said. "Ruben is 34, and serves a heavily Democratic district, so we think he can serve the 7th District as long as he wants to. He's also one of the members of Congress we feel we can call and he will personally answer and discuss the issues with us, and has the potential to be one of credit unions' biggest allies."

Several credit union supporters have taken Comstock and Gallego's example a step further, progressing from state legislature to the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate. Gary Peters, senator-elect from Michigan, served in the state's Senate from November 1994 to 2002, when he retired due to term limits.

He was elected to Michigan's 9th Congressional District in 2008 and will be the state's junior senator starting in January.

"From the very beginning, we felt Gary not only had a bright future as a legislator, but would make an impact for credit unions. Though he had a few years between his time in the Michigan Senate and the U.S. House, with Gary it was easy to pick up right where he left off, and he certainly kept his dedication to credit unions," said Ken Ross, executive vice president/chief operating officer at the Michigan Credit Union League.

Peters faced a well-funded opponent in Republican Terri Lynn Land for Michigan's open seat in November, but with his election, credit unions have a strong ally in the Senate.

"Gary is very keen on continuing a high-level dialogue when it comes to regulatory reform and the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank on community financial institutions," Ross said. "In Michigan particularly we've seen a lot of predatory lending, and Dodd-Frank has seen our credit unions roll back on products to combat that lending due to regulations."

Senator-elect from West Virginia Shelley Moore Capito (R) followed a similar path, serving in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1996 to 2000 and in Congress from 2001 to her election to the Senate in November.

"Shelley has been instrumental in getting credit union issues into the discussion, everything from regulatory relief to examination fairness and concerns about access to capital," said Ken Watts, West Virginia Credit Union League president.

Once these credit union-friendly candidates announce their intentions to run for the next level, state league support is not an automatic.

"When Barbara decided to run for Rep. Frank Wolf's seat in Virginia's 10th Congressional District, we did our due diligence, interviewed both candidates, and felt like she would continue to be a champion for credit unions in Congress," Pillow said.

De Bey said the MWCUA conducted a similar vetting of all candidates in Arizona's 7th Congressional District, and Gallego came out on top.

And while it's good to see credit union supporters advance up the levels of state and federal legislature, the leagues must now look at who their replacements will be, and the relationship building begins again.

"Once the candidates to fill the seat are announced, we get right back to work doing our research, seeing who we have contacts with," Pillow said. "Long term, it helps us continue to build these relationships and helps us achieve our long-term goals of finding candidates at every level who will be a strong voice for credit unions."

CUNA contributed a record $6 million in this year's election cycle, including more than $3 million in direct contributions in 396 races, including 367 of the 435 House races (190 Republicans and 177 Democrats) and 30 of 36 Senate races (15 Republicans and 15 Democrats). More than 90% of credit union-supported candidates won their races.