Today at CUNA GAC: Rapid-Fire Updates from Washington D.C.

We’re updating this post all week long with the latest news from CUNA’s GAC in our nation’s capital.

Senate Meetings

Northwest credit union advocates shared their message with legislators from Oregon and Washington on Wednesday, including Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington.

Northwest credit union advocates crisscrossed Congressional office buildings all day on Wednesday, meeting with every legislative office from Oregon and Washington. They brought a strong message of credit union value, backed up by the numbers from our recent Credit Union Impact Report, and specific concerns and requests regarding data security and regulatory relief.

Credit union leaders organized themselves for meetings with their legislators, preparing their messages and volunteering to deliver certain points and share impactful stories. During the meetings, the economic impact of credit unions was often shared right off the bat, including the specific impact in the Congressional district being addressed.

Congressional staffers were visibly impacted by these numbers. Eyebrows raised as credit union leaders explained the total impact and the direct member benefits that constituents in particular districts enjoyed.

Advocates went on to discuss important issues like data security. They pointed out that while credit unions are held to high data security standards, retailers are not, though they often access the same information. They shared how the cost of data breaches like those at Target and Home Depot fell on credit unions, and added up with fraud expenses, replacing cards, and extra employee time helping members through the process.

Another key topic was regulatory relief. Senators and staff heard how, while credit unions did not cause the recession and indeed were often a financial safe harbor for Americans, they are being subjected to the same regulatory response as the big banks that did cause it. And they heard how unnecessary regulation was causing credit unions to scale back some services, and costing them and ultimately their members a tremendous amount in compliance costs, for little or no benefit to society at large.

At the end of a long day, with many tired feet, credit union advocates hosted Congressional staff for a reception in one of the House office buildings, giving them a chance to cement relationships over food and drinks. As the sun set over the Washington Monument, Northwest credit union leaders finally called it a day, happy with their success in sharing the credit union difference.

Senator Jeff Merkley

Mark McWatters Conversation

NCUA Board Member Mark McWatters asks and answers questions with Northwest credit union advocates.

Tuesday morning’s general session included Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), who was introduced by NWCUA President and CEO Troy Stang. Senator Merkley thanked credit unions for their hard work. “Of the people, by the people, for the people,” said Sen. Merkley, “sounds a lot like the credit union mission to me.”

Sen. Merkley said that it’s important to make it 100% clear that credit unions are not-for-profit. He encouraged credit union advocates to bring front line stories to their senators and representatives. He echoed Senator Grassley in saying that, with tax reform underway, all tax exemptions would be on the table. “Let’s make sure the tax exempt status of credit unions is not brought into the conversation,” he said.

Arianna Huffington

Keynote Speaker Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, shared her thoughts on healthy living as the foundation of good leadership. “We take better care of our smartphones than we do of ourselves,” she said. Huffington encouraged credit union leaders to get good sleep and regularly unplug from their computers, phones, televisions, and other devices.

Special Conversation with NCUA Board Member McWatters

In addition to his general session address, NCUA Board Member Mark McWatters engaged in a special conversation with Northwest credit unions. McWatters asked and answered questions with the Northwest delegation, which includes over 200 credit union advocates.

McWatters began by asking about the realities of marijuana businesses in Washington state, where recreational marijuana was legalized last year. Credit union leaders responded with their experiences, challenges, and concerns. McWatters concluded that the existing situation, in which many marijuana-based businesses cannot access financial services, is a public safety issue, with businesses forced to operate on a cash-only basis leaving them open to theft and robbery. He said that the status quo was dangerous to businesses and financial institutions.

The conversation then moved to the necessity for regulatory relief. McWatters highlighted a number of areas in which he saw the need and potential to ease the burden on credit unions. He said that credit unions provide critical services to the American people, including the underserved, and said that he would like to remove unnecessary burdens that keep credit unions from serving people at their full potential.

Jack Fallis Carries Washington Flag

NWCUA Board Chair and Global Credit Union President and CEO Jack Fallis carries the Washington State flag during the opening ceremony of CUNA GAC.

CUNA GAC started with bang Monday morning in Washington, D.C., as nearly 5,000 credit union leaders from around the country, including over 200 from the Northwest, filled the D.C. Convention Center to hear from new CUNA President and CEO Jim Nussle, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher, NCUA Chair Debbie Matz and much more.

Jack Fallis, chair of the NWUCA Board of Directors  and President and CEO of Global Credit Union, was tapped to carry the Washington state flag in the opening ceremonies. Troy Stang, President and CEO of the NWCUA carried the Oregon flag.

Jim Nussle

Nussle made debut on the GAC stage together with his wife Karen. The two of them promptly entered into a House of Cards parody that got the crowd laughing. Nussle went on to discuss his charge to bring “bold leadership” to CUNA, which the CUNA board asked of him.

In a video made over the weekend, Nussle went incognito to interview GAC attendees about what they see as priorities for his leadership. Northwesterners Jim Morrell and Steven Pagenstecher were among those interviewed, sharing advice and laughs with Nussle.

Nussle stressed that effective credit union advocacy demands that credit unions engage their staff and members. “Politicians listen to people, not associations,” he said, “because people vote.”

He said that when credit unions egange their members, they have the strength to go on offense, bringing Congress into the conversation about why credit unions are the nation’s best financial services choice. “Winning to me is growing,” he said. “Our opportunity must be offered to a whole new generation.”

Ari Fleisher

Nussle and Wife

Jim Nussle and his wife Karen take the stage at CUNA GAC.

Fleisher spoke about the national political landscape, making no apologies for his Republican allegiances. He pointed out that Democrats have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections, but Republicans have made landslide gains in the past two midterm elections. The electorates that turn up for presidential versus mideterm elections, he said, are markedly different.

Democratic voters tend to turn out en masse for presidential elections, while Republican voters show up for midterms. Fleisher pointed out that the Democratic electorate includes younger voters and hispanic voters, while the wave of baby boomer retirees represents a growing electorate for Republicans.

Fleisher said that the biggest differences in party leaning lie not in gender or race, but in cultural values and practices. Single people overwhelmingly favor Democrats while married people tend heavily towards Republicans. Those who regularly attend religious services are much more likely to vote Republican, while those who report never attending lean strongly Democratic.

NCUA Chair Debbie Matz

Matz said that she is “committed to making 2015 the Year of Regulatory Relief.” She thanked credit unions for their comments on the recent risk-based capital proposal, saying “We really do want to hear your views.”

Along with walking through some of the key points in the new RBC proposal, Matz listed five areas in which the NCUA is focusing on regulatory relief this year:

  • Adding Supplemental Capital
  • Expanding Fields of Membership
  • Removing Fixed Asset Limits
  • Asset Securitization
  • Easing Member Business Lending

 For more info, see CUNA’s coverage here.

Congressional Reps Address GAC

Rep Neugebauer

Rep. Neugebauer addresses the crowd at CUNA GAC. Neugebauer recently introduced legislation to broaden the leadership of the CFPB. Photo by CUNA.

Speaker of the House John Boenher, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, and Representative Randy Neugebauer all addressed the credit union advocates assembled at CUNA GAC Monday afternoon.

In a video address, Rep. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that he was concerned about the amount of “combative and coercive” regulation being brought by federal regulators. He encouraged credit unions to engage their massive member base to accomplish their goals. “”I only represent about 725,000 people in southwest Ohio. All of you represent 100 million Americans,” he said. “Stay engaged, make your voice heard and keep up the good work.”

Sen. Grassley (R-Iowa) said that his door was always open to credit unions. As a member of the Senate Finance Committee he made it clear that with tax reform under way in Washington, D.C., “the tax status of every interest group is something to be looked at.” He said that it is critical that credit unions use their national voice to take part in that dialogue.

Rep. Neugebauer (R-Texas) recently introduced a bill to broaden the leadership of the CFPB. He shared some details of that plan with attendees and outlined three more ways that he will attempt to provide regulatory relief to credit unions: through legislation to address regulatory reforms, smart and effective consumer protections, and cyber security and data protection.

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, [email protected].