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Credit union lobby starts $7 million effort to help vulnerable incumbents

Collins, Daines, Peters among the first beneficiaries

The Credit Union National Association, a lobbying group for credit unions, is launching what it says will be a $7 million investment in competitive congressional races during the final weeks of the election. 

The group’s first efforts will inject outside spending into some of the nation’s most pivotal Senate races. CUNA, along with its affiliates, will back the reelection bids of Republican Sens. Susan Collins, who is in the fight of her career to keep her seat in Maine, and Steve Daines, who is facing a tough race in Montana against Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. 

CUNA also is launching digital ads in support of Democratic Sens. Gary Peters in Michigan and Tina Smith in Minnesota. The efforts will include direct mail outreach to voters in those states. And CUNA has its eyes on additional races that it plans to announce later. 

The group plans to spend in 11 Senate and House races over the coming weeks, said Trey Hawkins, deputy chief advocacy officer for political action.

“We’re going to be doing everything, from direct mail and digital ads, aimed at credit union members,” Hawkins told CQ Roll Call. He said 44 percent of registered voters are credit union members. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the Maine and Montana Senate races as Toss-ups, while it has Peters’ race, against Republican John James, as Leans Democratic and Smith’s race, against former GOP Rep. Jason Lewis, as Solid Democratic.

Voters in Maine, Montana, Michigan and Minnesota have been bombarded with ads in the presidential race and down the ballot, including from party committees, super PACs and other outside groups. Unlike a lot of the political ads right now, Hawkins says all of the credit union messages will have a positive tone. 

An ad aimed at Collins praises her work to protect senior citizens from fraud. Spots aimed at Daines and Peters focus on the coronavirus pandemic, declaring that Daines was “there to help” and Peters “supported all efforts to take the coronavirus seriously.”

The campaign begins as voting is already underway in several states, including Michigan, Virginia and Illinois. 

“We think right now is the perfect time to launch these,” Hawkins said. “Voters are starting to pay attention, voters are starting to vote. We are particularly targeting — our strategy and tactics varies race by race — but a lot of our messaging is targeting independent or swing voters who may be on the fence and are just now starting to focus on the election.” 

The group’s independent election spending was about $6.8 million in 2018 and $5.8 million in 2016, said spokesperson Lauren Williams. 

CUNA’s PAC, one of the bigger business-oriented ones, has donated more than $4.5 million to candidates, Hawkins said. And it’s among the top PACs in terms of giving to lawmakers who otherwise reject corporate PAC and business PAC donations. 

Like other lobbying groups, the coronavirus pandemic upended credit unions’ legislative agenda, making new government programs aimed at helping businesses and unemployed Americans a top priority. The group supported the Paycheck Protection Program and other economic relief measures.   

Credit unions also argue that they should be exempt from some of the financial services regulations that apply to for-profit banks.

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