NWCUA Plays an Important Role in 2012 Elections

With thousands of credit union activists in Washington, D.C., for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) this week, legislators from around the nation are hearing from advocates for the movement en masse.

Many of those legislators begin developing a relationship with the movement only after their election. Many others, however, were elected thanks in part to the support of the credit union movement. But how does the movement choose which candidates to support? And how does it continue to cultivate and grow those relationships?

The Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) has both an Oregon and Washington Governmental Affairs Committee and has lobbyists in Salem, Ore., and Olympia, Wash., who specifically represent credit unions. But its work on the ground level, the role it plays in helping to candidates get elected to office, is increasingly a priority as the Association works to create credit union champions in Congress.

As 2012 is an election year, the emphasis on legislative advocacy is as significant now as ever.

“Any good advocacy program requires a healthy and engaged PAC (polital action committee),” said Mark Minickiello, the NWCUA’s vice president of legislative affairs. “We work hard to educate lawmakers about credit unions and our issues, so when it comes time for them to be re-elected, we need to be involved. Lawmakers who understand our issues are invaluable. We need to keep them around.”

To that end, the NWCUA contributes hundreds of thousands of dollars every two years to make sure of just that—that credit union supporters stay in office, and that new ones are elected. During the last election cycle, political action committee (PAC) contributions to candidates in Oregon and Washington totaled upwards of $400,000.

But how is the money distributed? How are those decisions made? It is the policy of the NWCUA to support the election of individuals who support the credit union movement on a non-partisan basis, and the NWCUA PAC Committee—and its PAC contribution policy—oversee the development and implementation of this strategy.

“Decisions are made based on several factors,” Minickiello said. “At any given time, there are numerous worthy candidates for public office. Given that we cannot support everyone, our contribution policy sets up a pretty clear path for us to follow.”

The Association has, of course, finite resources to devote to supporting candidates, so maximizing the value received for the support given is crucial, Minickiello said. Therefore, candidates are carefully evaluated, and priority is given to the candidate in a particular race who will be best able to effectively promote credit union goals and priorities.

These candidates come on a variety of levels and are seeking a variety of offices. While the exact type of support may vary depending upon a candidate’s record, interest in and influence over credit union issues, as well as the current state of resources available to the PAC at the time, candidates and elected officials supported by PAC funding generally fall into one of four basic categories.

State and federal legislators directly represent the people of Oregon and Washington. Minickiello explained that since these individuals are charged with the formulation of state and federal law, they represent the NWCUA’s most direct method of influencing state and federal policy. As such, PAC funds may be used for the benefit of lawmakers currently holding state or federal offices, or for candidates running for a state or federal legislative office.

State executive positions, such as governors and attorney generals, carry substantial political authority in that they are responsible for carrying out day-to-day administration and regulation. PAC funds may be used for the benefit of credit-union supporters holding or running for an executive-level office.

Similarly, PAC funds can be used to support state Supreme Court Justices, who are the ultimate interpreters of state law. And finally, local elected officials often decide—or are recruited—to run for higher office. PAC funds may be used to support candidates on the local levels who have worked or volunteered at a credit union or have a proven record of promoting credit unions goals and priorities. This type of early-career support often results in a positive, long-term relationship with legislators as their career advances.

Within each of those categories, the Association looks at several factors when determining the level of support that will be provided, including:

  • Electability/Polling
  • Accessibility
  • Connection to local credit union
  • Credit union experience
  • Whether or not they are a “key” legislator—a member of a key committee or in a position of specifically valuable leadership
  • Past sponsor of credit union-related legislation
  • Past support of credit union issues
  • Likelihood of being placed on committees governing financial institution issues

“Generally, the Association supports incumbents,” Minickiello said of the NWCUA’s baseline strategy. “We will only oppose a seated incumbent in those rare circumstances when the incumbent expresses interests directly opposed to those represented by the Association, or when the Association is actively backing a challenger with strong credit union experience.”

 

This is the first in a series of articles that Anthem will be featuring on NWCUA support in the 2012 elections. Having first explained how decisions are made regarding choosing which candidates to support, upcoming reports will list candidates in Oregon that the Association is supporting in the May 15 Oregon Primary, followed by the list of candidates in Washington state being supported in the Aug. 7 Washington Primary. Along the way, Anthem will also highlight key races in Oregon and Washington to provide the full context for the 2012 elections and the Association’s accompanying political strategy.

 

Questions? Contact a member of the Association’s Legislative Affairs team:

Jennifer Wagner, Vice President of Legislative Advocacy
Mark Minickiello, Vice President of Legislative Affairs
Stacy Augustine, Senior Vice President & General Counsel

Posted in Advocacy News, Events, NWCUA.