CU Advocates Get the Scoop on Campaigns, Legislation at Legislative Forum on Wednesday
Tuesday (Sept. 24) and Wednesday (Sept. 25) were mega-days for governmental affairs. On Tuesday golfers teed up for VACUPAC at the annual VACUPAC golf tournament, raising $7,925.00 for the only political action committee that supports legislative allies on the state level for Virginia’s credit unions. Thank you golfers and sponsors! We’ll have a full list of all the sponsors on tomorrow’s listserv. The golf tournament is the only state-wide fundraiser for VACUPAC, and we appreciate your continuing commitment to the event.
Wednesday, the League resurrected its standalone Legislative Forum after holding legislative educational sessions at the annual meeting for several years. This event drew 60 attendees, held at the offices of the League’s external lobbying team, Hunton & Williams, in Richmond. The chairman of the League’s Governmental Affairs Committee, Mike Flanary, emceed the event.
Keynote speaker Bob Holsworth, a nationally cited political analyst who previously taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, described Virginia as a purple state with a bluish tint because of demographic changes. For example, Republican George Allen garnered more votes in his Senate bid in 2012 than in 2000 in some areas, but those were mostly rural areas. Those gains did not make up for losses in larger areas. Republicans, Holsworth said, have not figured out how to appeal to the increasing number of larger minority groups in the more populous areas, including Latinos, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans, even though some of those groups previously leaned Republican.
Holsworth said a year ago it looked like the gubernatorial race would resemble the years when a popular governor handed the office over to a successor from the same party. All that changed after the expected GOP nominee, Bill Bolling, got sidelined and “Giftgate” emerged to bedevil Gov. McDonnell. Holsworth believes if the governor’s election were held today, Democrat Terry McAuliffe would win. He said Republican Ken Cuccinelli has to close the gender gap; Cuccinelli is ahead with the male vote, but not enough to make up for a large deficit among female voters.
An extraordinary development in the race, he said, is that the Libertarian candidate is now polling 10% despite lack of money for advertising. He thinks that number reflects frustration among people who usually vote Republican, and that the Libertarian votes and Bolling write-ins will hurt Cuccinelli. Holsworth said his advice to Cuccinelli is: say the campaign isn’t about personalities, it’s about two or three specific issues, and appeal more to voters in the middle.
He doesn’t predict a wave election in the House of Delegate races, foreseeing the Republicans holding on to their overwhelming majority in that chamber. He said the shock on the statewide races is that currently the lieutenant governor race is even, though he expects that to change in the Democratic candidate’s favor. The attorney general’s race also is even, and Holsworth says that reflects that the general public isn’t looking at either of the races on the lower ticket yet.
CUNA Speaker: Advocates Essential To Legislative Victories
The next speaker, Trey Hawkins, vice president of political affairs for the Credit Union National Association, showed a crowded organizational chart to give attendees an idea of how many people lobby on behalf of credit unions through CUNA. Hawkins noted that CUNA lobbyists include former staff from the White House and Congressional offices, and that the people managing the federal PAC, CULAC, were professional fundraisers.
But the CUNA and League lobbyists are only part of a three-legged stool needed for advocacy. The professional lobbyists are one leg, the political arm composed of PACs is another leg that impacts elections, and the final leg is composed of grassroots volunteers. What sets credit unions apart … especially from banks … is that credit unions can harness the power of their 97 million members.
CUNA has been asking credit unions nationally to tap into that grassroots power in the Don’t Tax My Credit Union Campaign. Hawkins said that CUNA has conducted research that shows that most members don’t mind receiving information on legislative issues from their credit unions. The research showed that members who are educated on the CU structure and tax exemption more fully appreciate their credit unions and want to do more of their banking with them. That research is bearing out in the number of contacts to Congress over the last four months on the DTMCU campaign … 925,000. Credit unions, including those in Virginia, are generating the high number by turning to their members for advocacy.
Hawkins noted that tweeting is particularly effective for getting a lawmaker’s attention. He said that while many staffers manager the Facebook pages of lawmakers, the lawmakers themselves are still at the point where they handle their Twitter accounts themselves. CUNA is going to ask credit unions to put on another grassroots push on Oct. 2 for a virtual rally for the DTMCU campaign.
Finally, Hawkins asked CEOs not to decide for the employees whether they should donate to CULAC. He urged credit unions to give their staff members the information about CULAC and VACUPAC and let the employees decide themselves if they want to contribute. “You’ll be surprised how many say yes,” he said.
Another Call for Grassroots Support
The League’s lead lobbyist, Whitt Clement, expanded upon the need to mobilize the grassroots to have a successful advocacy program. He said constituents talking to their lawmakers makes lobbying easier because elected officials will listen to voters in their districts more than to lobbyists. He urged advocates to attend legislative events or offer events for lawmakers, and to make sure that the credit union members introduce themselves to the lawmakers as credit union representatives.
He also urged credit union members to be involved in the community. Legislators often are members of civic groups or attend their meetings, and community involvement is a good way to meet lawmakers and form relationships.
Lawmakers Add Their Two Cents
Del. Tim Hugo (R-Cllifton) and Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) represented their respective parties during a lunch-time presentation. Both of them told the attendees of their longstanding credit union memberships. Hugo also talked of how he worked on Capitol Hill during the debate over H.R. 1151, and remembers the flood of mail from CU advocates pushing that legislation. He said he learned then that “You never fool with the credit unions.”
One of the issues they addressed was tax reform on the state level. Both said that tax reform would not come up in the 2014 General Assembly session, especially after the bruising battle on transportation.
Every seat in the House of Delegates is up for election this year. McClellan said that the Democrats have 38 candidates for open seats and challenges to Republican incumbents. She noted that Democrats have only 32 members in the House now, and that usually makes it harder to recruit candidates, but that was not the case this year. She said watch the races where Democrats are running against Republican incumbents Ramadan, Watson, and Yost. She said Democrats are competitive everywhere, and they are benefiting from field workers from the 2008 and 2012 presidential races.
Hugo acknowledged that the Democrats did a good job of recruiting candidates, but he said the Republican field is more business-oriented, especially since many have been in business themselves. Voters care about jobs, and Democrats are talking about everything except business. He said that of three open seats in the Hampton Roads area where Republicans have retired or the one seat where a House member moved up to the Senate in a special election, all four seats will remain Republican.
Look at the quality of the Republican candidates, he said, citing the enduring power of Republican Del. Tom Rust in a Democratic district. Rust and his fellow northern Virginia Republicans Dels. Ramadan and Comstock will win, Hugo predicted.
Volunteers Important to Lawmakers
Asked about the importance of CU advocates volunteering on legislative campaigns, McClellan asserted that candidates remember volunteers and keep them involved. For instance, if she sees a credit union bill, she’ll call a volunteer to solicit input. “I’ll call that volunteer because that volunteer votes for me. That’s more valuable to me than a check,” she said.
Hugo too said that volunteers make a difference to lawmakers. Campaigns are teams, and if you are a volunteer “you are a part of the team.”
Legislative Issues To Consider
After lunch, Senior Vice President David Miles asked attendees for feedback on possible legislative issues that have cropped up in other states. They included:
- Paying members of the Board of Directors at state-chartered credit unions. Feedback included questioning whether paying directors would hurt the tax exemption status and whether there is a measurable difference in director quality in states where they are paid; and support of payment as a way to attract younger board members).
- Changing the law to allow municipalities to deposit funds in credit unions. Nearly 30 states have public deposits for credit unions now. Comments included aligning with treasurers if the Leagues goes forward with legislation; investing effort into the federal legislation on member business lending instead of battling over public deposits; and introducing credit union bills every year to increase chances of passage.
- Barring credit card surcharges wanted by merchants. Comments included a swipe at merchants for wanting even more money out of card transactions while not bearing fraud costs.
Thank you Hunton & Williams for providing the meeting space for the forum. Thank you attendees for making the event a success! We appreciate that it’s not easy to take a day away from the office. Anyone with suggestions or comments about the forum can send them to Karin Sherbin at firstname.lastname@example.org.