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October 10, 2012

Credit unions seek voice in Washington

By Eric Czarnik
C & G Staff Writer

As a major election and the Oct. 18 International Credit Union Day draw near, advocates of credit unions have been working to make sure that big banks are not the only financial institution that get a say in Washington, D.C.

According to Judi Desilets of the Ferndale-based Credit Union ONE, her organization’s 18 branches recently raised almost $6,500 for a raffle fundraiser that benefits the Michigan Credit Union League Legislative Action Fund.

According to Desilets, this action fund is designed to “give credit unions a voice” in Washington.

“This has been ongoing for several years, but a lot of times there isn’t a lot of exposure,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know about it unless they happen to be affiliated with a credit union.”

According to supporters, credit unions are nonprofit groups that operate similarly to banks — except instead of being run by executives, they are managed by volunteers who must answer to corporate shareholders.

Advocates say credit unions are more likely to offer bonuses, such as more favorable rates and fewer fees — though membership might sometimes be restricted to certain locations or affiliations.

Because credit unions and banks often compete for the same customers, the Michigan Credit Union League says it has established its Legislative Action Fund to ensure its clients’ interests are represented. The MCUL is a trade organization that represents around 90 percent of the state’s 300-plus credit unions.

MCUL & Affiliates CEO David Adams said the Legislative Action Fund’s efforts benefit individual members of credit unions. Adams explained that the MCUL is lobbying to raise a cap on lending to small businesses, which he said could help create jobs in Michigan.

The Credit Union Small Business Jobs Bill would raise the cap from 12.25 percent of a credit union’s assets to 27.5 percent, according to the league. The bill was still in the U.S. Senate at press time.

“Throughout the darkest days of the recession, Michigan credit unions have continued to supply much-needed capital to small businesses, but right now an arbitrary cap on how much credit unions can lend stands in the way,” Adams said in a statement.

“Raising this cap is a top legislative priority on the federal level because it has such significant potential to move the economy of our state and our nation forward.”

According to the Center for Responsive Politics’ website, OpenSecrets.org, the MCUL Legislative Action Fund raised less than $100,000 during major election years from 1990-1996. But fundraising has stayed above $400,000 per major election cycle from 2002 onward, excluding incomplete information for 2012.

This election cycle, the fund has reportedly raised around $347,000 and had spent almost $527,000 at press time, which means that it has dipped into its cash on hand this cycle.

According to an OpenSecrets.org chart of the fund’s political action committee spending in 2012, it had given $50,000 to Republican groups and $5,000 to Democratic groups at press time.

Learn more about Credit Union ONE at www.cuone.org. The Michigan Credit Union League can be reached at www.mcul.org.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Eric Czarnik at eczarnik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1058.