CUNA-NAFCU Merger: Members of Congress Could Take a Hit
Why the formation of America’s Credit Unions could impact campaign funding.
CUNA and NAFCU are telling everyone that their proposed merger will be a win-win for credit unions.
But key members of Congress and other congressional candidates could be losers if the deal goes through.
Both CUNA and NAFCU operate their own Political Action Committees (PACs). During the 2022 campaign, the two contributed to many of the same candidates, with those contributions in some cases reaching the limit of $5,000 per year in an election cycle set by the Federal Election Commission.
Currently, each trade group can contribute up to $10,000 each election cycle—for a maximum of $20,000 from the national credit union trade groups. A combined PAC would see these contributions limited to $10,000.
Backstory and Context
CUNA operates a much larger PAC than NAFCU and, for the 2022 election cycle, contributed almost $5.3 million to congressional candidates. That money was raised from credit union employees and employees of credit union leagues, according to OpenSecrets, an organization that specializes in campaign finance.
In terms of contribution totals, CUNA’s PAC— known as the Credit Union Legislative Action Council (CULAC)—is one of the largest in the country.
“CULAC is the premier political action committee of the credit union system and the CUNA/League system’s primary means of supporting pro-credit union candidates for office,” the group explains on its website.
By comparison, NAFCU’s PAC spent $294,703 on congressional candidates in 2022, raising its money from credit union employees and others.
“Decisions made in Washington can have a tremendous impact on the credit union industry, your credit union, and ultimately, your job,” NAFCU/PAC states on its website. “It is important for the future of our industry that we make ourselves heard in the political process. NAFCU/PAC is your opportunity to help elect members of Congress who understand and support the interests of credit unions and will protect your investment in the credit union industry.”
How Will Things Change?
CUNA and NAFCU officials have said that if the merger is approved, there would be only one PAC.
And there’s the rub.
With the one PAC, credit union campaign contributions to some members of Congress could decrease.
For instance, during the 2022 campaign, CUNA’s PAC contributed $10,000 to Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who now chairs the House Financial Services Committee. During the same campaign, NAFCU’s PAC also contributed $10,000 to McHenry.
A merged trade association, however, with its one PAC, would only have been able to contribute $10,000.
Impact of the Move
A CUCollaborate analysis of campaign finance records cataloged by OpenSecrets showed that 48 House members and 13 senators received contributions from both PACs in the 2022 election cycle.
For some key members of Congress, the PACs “maxed out,” giving the largest amount they could under federal law. For others, the contributions to candidates totaled more than the $10,000 individual contributions allowed under federal law.
For instance, Rep. Andy Barr, R-Ky., who now chairs the key House Financial Institutions and Monetary Policy Subcommittee received $3,500 from NAFCU and $10,000 from CUNA for a total of $13,500.
Response from the Trade Groups
Asked about the issue, spokespersons from the trade groups issued a joint statement.
“A unified PAC for the proposed America’s Credit Unions would provide an amplified voice with lawmakers for credit unions across the country,” they said. “A singular PAC would enable expanded collective support of candidates, with more opportunities to utilize both direct contributions and independent expenditures.”
CUNA has utilized independent expenditures in the past, with its PAC spending money on advertising and direct mail for congressional candidates. For this type of spending, any coordination with the congressional candidate is prohibited.
The two major banking trade groups, the American Bankers Association and the Independent Community Bankers of America, each operate their own PACs.
But the CUNA and NAFCU spokespersons said they expect their combined PAC will have even more clout than the two currently operated by the credit union groups.
“We expect to be able to merge both PACs into an even stronger political action committee that will ensure credit unions are heard on Capitol Hill,” they said. “Political engagement is a key component for both CUNA and NAFCU in their effective advocacy efforts and would continue with America’s Credit Unions.”
A Super PAC in the Future?
Of course, there are ways around the restrictions. The trade groups could encourage credit union employees to contribute directly to candidates in addition to contributing to the PAC.
America’s Credit Unions could also form a Super PAC similar to Friends of Traditional Banking, which is operated by banking groups and solicits contributions from bankers. Each year, that Super PAC chooses two House or Senate races and funnels contributions to those races.
“We’re the inverse of a PAC—instead of spreading a little bit of money to a lot of campaigns, we focus a lot of money on a couple of key campaigns,” the organization explains on its website.