Letters to the Editor: CULAC Action In Race A Step Forward, Not Back

As a past chairman of the Credit Union Legislative Action Council of CUNA (CULAC), I take strong exception to The Credit Union Journal's characterization of CULAC's recent independent expenditure campaigns as a "major setback." ("CUNA Efforts in Primary Races Experience Major Setback," Aug. 11)

Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who are involved in national politics would see these actions as a step forward for CULAC. While the candidates CULAC supported in these races - Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and Republican House candidate Jeff Crank in Colorado-failed to win their respective nominations, CULAC's unprecedented level of support put the Washington political community on notice that credit unions will be there for those who are there for credit unions, even when the going gets tough.

The message this sends to members of Congress and candidates is that credit union support means something, that credit unions will put their money where their mouth is when it comes to supporting our friends.

In 2002, during my first term as Chair of CULAC, we started down this path by spending a small amount, around $80,000, to help elect two candidates-Rep. John Porter (R-NV) and Rep. Mike Michaud (D-ME) - who have proven to be strong credit union allies on Capitol Hill. Then in 2004 we spent a little more, this time just over $200,000, in three efforts. One, for Rep. Alyson Schwartz (D-PA), was successful; the other two, for Rep. Phil Crane and David Huffman, as the story noted, were not. Nonetheless, as our receipts grew in record numbers each cycle, our aim was to gradually grow the number and level of these campaigns to the point where we were of real use to credit union-friendly candidates.

CULAC support, and non-support, of candidates has not been an indicator of their support of credit unions once they get into office. A prime example of this is Rep. Melissa Bean, the candidate who defeated Phil Crane. Rep. Bean has proven to be a good friend to credit unions during her tenure. There have been other cases where we have supported someone who turned out not to have credit unions' best interest at heart. This cycle CULAC has expended $310,000 on independent expenditures to help two of its friends.

There are thousands of political action committees, but very few regularly take that next step beyond merely contributing to friends to actually campaigning for them in a meaningful way. What we are seeing is CULAC's natural evolution from one of the thousand check-cutting PACs into one of the few with the resources and willingness to risk an independent expenditure. CULAC and CUNA should be commended for moving in this direction, no matter what the outcome.

Finally, one must remember that at least one of these races is far from over. As an independent candidate in a state where independents outnumber both Democrats and Republicans, there is a very real chance that Sen. Lieberman will still be a senator come January. One must assume he will look back at his ordeal and take notice of whom his real friends were-those who stuck by him when the going got really tough.

Rick Pillow, President

Virginia Credit Union League, Lynchburg, Va.

Send Letters To The Editor To Lisa Freeman at lfreeman<at>cujournal.com.