ICBA welcomes new members of Congress

ICBA’s outreach program creates connections with freshman legislators on Capitol Hill.

By Aaron Stetter and Brian Cooney, ICBA

When the 117th U.S. Congress convenes on Jan. 3, it will welcome more than 50 new members of the Senate and House of Representatives. ICBA’s congressional relations team will be personally reaching out to greet each and every one.

It’s all a part of ICBA’s new member outreach program, a biennial effort launched with every new Congress to welcome freshman senators and representatives from both sides of the aisle. ICBA introduces them to the important role community banks play in keeping their states and districts strong. As a nonpartisan organization, ICBA seeks to work with all members of Congress to promote community bank’s legislative agenda.

These are more than meet and greets. They are educational sessions built on facts and figures. When ICBA lobbyists meet with a new member or their staff, they don’t just tell them how many community banks, branches and employees are in their district or state. They also break down the economic impact, including the number and dollar amount of small business, commercial real estate, agriculture and mortgage loans recently originated by community banks in their home districts or states. This year’s data will include the outsized participation of community banks in the Paycheck Protection Program.

It’s also an opportunity to share ICBA’s top legislative priorities for the new Congress. From a COVID-19 relief bill to a wide array of regulatory, housing finance, agriculture, tax and other matters, ICBA explains why these issues are important and asks legislators to support them.What’s also significant is that it gives new members and their staff an initial point of contact with ICBA and an invitation to reach out if there are ever questions about banking issues—especially those related to community banks.

Elected members and their staff are responsible for keeping track of and weighing in on literally hundreds of issues. They can’t be experts in everything, and ICBA stands ready to serve as a credible resource on banking issues—whether it’s how a bill could affect community banks in their state or district, the pros and cons of cosponsoring a specific bill, or if a constituent needs help with a bank-related issue or request. Our goal is to be viewed by every congressional office as a valuable and trusted source for accurate data and information.

The association also serves as a matchmaker of sorts, helping connect members of Congress with community bankers located in their home district or state and facilitating bank visits.

Outreach looks different this year

Though the COVID-19 pandemic limits ICBA’s ability to meet in person with new members of Congress and their staff, that doesn’t stop our lobbyists from making these valuable connections.

This year’s outreach meetings are likely to take place over video conference instead of traditional face-to-face meetings. It is an added challenge, but videoconferencing creates a more personal connection than a simple phone conversation.

Brian Cooney, ICBA’s senior vice president and legislative counsel, is working with ICBA’s talented team of lobbyists to divide up the list of new members and set up virtual meetings early in the new Congress.

Oftentimes, lawmakers review the schedules of their top staffers each day and will sometimes drop in on ICBA’s meetings to introduce themselves or ask about a particular matter. They may have recently spoken to a constituent about an issue with a loan or may seek assistance in connecting with community banks back in their home state.

ICBA’s lobbyists are especially eager to form relationships with members assigned to key committees, including tax writing, financial services, small business and agriculture. We at ICBA will keep our ears to the ground as congressional leadership makes these committee and subcommittee appointments, so we can begin to establish a good working relationship as soon as possible.

ICBA president and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey will be penning an open letter to Congress to welcome the new members, highlight ICBA’s bipartisan record of success and outline our legislative agenda.

ICBA is also in direct contact with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team and will work closely with them to assure that they appreciate and understand the community bank perspective.

While ICBA’s lobbyists engage early and often with both new and seasoned members of Congress, grassroots community banking advocacy is still critically important.

How community bankers can help

While ICBA’s lobbyists engage early and often with both new and seasoned members of Congress, grassroots community banking advocacy is still critically important.

In addition to establishing lines of communication with new members, ICBA will continue to leverage existing relationships community bankers have with returning members of Congress.

Later this month, we’ll be sending out our State of Advocacy – Grassroots Survey. Sent before the beginning of every new Congress, it asks community bankers about their pre-existing relationships with new and returning members.

Be on the lookout for it later this month—and don’t forget to let us know if you’ve already built a relationship with members of Congress or their staff.

Aaron Stetter (aaron.stetter@icba.org) is ICBA’s executive vice president, policy and political operations

Brian Cooney (brian.cooney@icba.org) is ICBA’s senior vice president and legislative counsel