Credit unions have several qualifications in politicians to pay particular attention to in this year’s election, says Trey Hawkins, vice president of political affairs for CUNA. Many candidates this year have a history of working closely with credit unions, are board members of credit unions or involved in a credit union in other ways.
Aside from experience and connections in the industry, credit unions want to look for candidates who have a willingness to listen and who have voiced strong support for credit union issues. Finally, all else being equal, credit unions are preferring candidates who are more likely to win over candidates who aren’t – simply so credit unions can better ensure they have channel to lobby through in the years ahead. “Viability is a factor, but it’s not an over arching factor,” Hawkins says. “It’s better to support someone who has a chance of winning.”
And credit unions do seem to have a significant influence in the races. During the midterm elections in 2010, 86% of candidates backed by the Credit Union Action League Council won a Congressional seat. With all 435 House seats and 33 of the 100 Senate contested this year, credit unions have much at stake.
On average during a congressional election during an presidential election year, 282,000 voters per district cast a ballot, according to Richard Gose, senior vice president of political affairs of CUNA, and each district has roughly 200,000 credit union members on average.
“You start to do the math and If we can ever really fully mobilize those credit union members to activate and to look at the issues and to take credit union issues into consideration as to which candidate to support,” Gose says. “That’s a huge opportunity for credit unions to make their voice to be heard.”
New England Region
“If we could get all of the credit union members to vote for me, that's all the votes I would need to win,” said former governor Angus King, Jr. and an Independent in Maine, where nearly half the population belongs to a credit union. There, credit unions are closely watching the election for a Senate seat left by outgoing Sen. Olympia Snow, who credit unions lauded for her decades of service to the state’s cooperative industry. The Maine Credit Union League (MCUL) has recently endorsed 104 candidates, including 101 state legislature candidates and King, who once had a strong lead in the race. Now, a slew of negative ads against King’s campaign has tightened the race.
MCUL is also endorsing Rep. Michael Michaud, a former credit union board member, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, both of whom have healthy leads in the polls, and are a nearly even mix of Republicans and Democrats. State legislature endorsements include six credit union board members.
“We are particularly pleased that they’re running,” Baradize says of the candidates who serve credit unions. “It’s a great opportunity for our issues to have advocates and some who understand the impact of certain pieces of legislation on credit unions.”
To help choose other endorsements, the Maine Credit Union League sent questionnaires to candidates asking about their involvement with credit unions, whether they supported a tax exempt status for credit unions and whether they were open to ongoing talks with an MCUL representative, says Jon Baradize, government and public affairs officer for the leagues.
Elsewhere in New England, the Senate race in Massachusetts, which was dubbed the “most high-profile in the country” by The Washington Post, is especially important to credit union. It pits Sen. Scott Brown (R) against Elizabeth Warren (D) the driving force behind the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the candidate staunchly favored by The Massachusetts Credit Union League for her financial reform efforts.
The race for an open Senate seat is hot in Virginia, where two well liked former governors are vying for a seat left by Sen. Jim Webb, who enjoyed much support from Virginia credit unions. Virginia’s Credit Union League, which represents 184 credit unions, is endorsing former Gov. Tim Kaine (D) over former Gov. and former Sen. George Allen (R), but Rick Pillow, president of the league, says that decision was not easy. Recent polls show Kaine with an eight-point lead over Allen, but the race has been very tight since it began.
“We’re monitoring the Senate race very closely,” Pillow says. The League conducted extensive phone interviews with both candidates and then met personally with them on credit union issues. Pillow says they both were supportive of the Virginia credit unions’ priorities – MBL, tax exemption issue and regulatory issues – but the league found Kaine to be a little more in line with its approach to legislation.
Virginia credit unions are backing a slew of incumbents – including Congressman Gerry Connolly (D), a co-sponsor of the MBL legislation, and Congressman Robert Hurt (R), who is on the House Banking Committee – who have proven receptive to cooperative issues. “We credit unions have been active on both sides,” Pillow says.
In the central region, Missouri Credit Unions are backing Ann Wagner (R) in a race for a Congressional seat against Glenn Koenen (D) Bill Slantz (Libertarian) and Anatol Zorikova (Constitution). The Missouri Credit Union Association favors Wagner for her support for credit union’s tax exempt status and supports MBL legislation. “Her support and willingness to work with Missouri credit unions on issues of concern will help all consumers,” says Missouri Credit Union Association president Mike Beall in a statement.
In North Carolina, credit unions have voiced their support for several candidates. The NCCUL, which represents 163 credit unions, is backing Elizabeth Dole (R) for U.S. Senate; and Frank Balance, Robin Hayes (R) and Brad Miller (D) for U.S. House Seats. All three are competitive campaigns.
“Decisions made in Washington D.C. have a direct impact on credit unions’ ability to provide affordable financial services,” says Larry Johnson, NCCUL president in a statement. “By supporting targeted candidates, we’re helping to ensure that our members will have representatives that care about their issues.”