Aaron Stetter: Nonstop advocacy

U.S. Capitol Building

ICBA stands at the ready to protect the franchise value of the nation’s community banks and develop tools to empower them to speak up and be heard.

By Aaron Stetter, ICBA

Be Heard!

Find all the tools you need to advocate for community banks at icba.org/beheard

At a time of great partisan divide, it takes a lot for Congress to take action. Members of Congress need to hear directly and persistently from their constituents, one way or the other, about how a piece of legislation will affect their day-to-day lives. If you can do that, you have a greater chance at breaking legislative gridlock or transcending partisan battle lines.

That’s what makes grassroots advocacy so powerful—and why ICBA is excited that 2021 was a record year for community bank advocacy. Last year, ICBA’s dedicated advocacy team helped more than 300,000 community bank advocates send more than 930,000 letters to Congress. Another 800 advocates used the center to make more than 2,000 phone calls.

What does nonstop community bank advocacy look like? Here’s a breakdown by the numbers.

A warm welcome to Congress

We kicked off the year with ICBA’s annual open letter to Congress, which outlines ICBA’s key legislative priorities of the year for the existing members of the Senate and House of Representatives, including 50 new members. Community bankers were encouraged to send the letter to their elected representatives, and they did not disappoint. They sent 83,000 advocacy letters throughout the year sharing the message of the important role community banks play in their community and highlighting ICBA’s agenda.

Massive pushback against IRS proposal

No one is more connected to their community than a community banker, and nowhere was this clearer than in the response to the proposal in the Build Back Better reconciliation bill (H.R. 6037) that would require banks to report account inflows and outflows to the IRS annually. Community banks shared news of this potential overreach and overwhelming compliance burden with their customers and encouraged them to speak out. And they did.

Community bankers and their advocates sent an astounding 700,000 letters from 227,000 people and 1,500 phone calls—the most successful individual outreach campaign in ICBA history. To date, this proposal is not included in the reconciliation bill, but the ICBA government relations staff is remaining vigilant.

Advocating for rural America

Community bankers sent more than 48,000 letters in support of the Enhancing Credit Opportunities in Rural America Act (ECORA S. 2202/H.R. 1977). This bipartisan legislation, introduced last March, would exempt interest income on farm real estate and rural mortgage loans from taxation, allowing community banks to lower loan rates and more efficiently serve borrowers.

Sharing the truth about credit unions

In 2021, ICBA’s Wake Up campaign called on policymakers and the public to wake up to the risky practices, costly tax subsidies and irresponsibly lax oversight of the nation’s credit unions. The media campaign included print and digital ads and a video calling for hearings into credit unions’ tax subsidies.

ICBA chairman Robert Fisher also joined with the National Taxpayer Unions for an event exploring how credit unions have overstepped the bounds of their regulatory mandate to serve people of modest means. The result of these efforts has been more than 5,000 messages to the Hill pushing for hearings.

Warning about the reporting burden of Section 1071

ICBA also worked late into December with community bankers to communicate why the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) proposed rule to implement Section 1071 would add a burdensome and costly reporting requirement onto all community bank small business lenders. It would require the CFPB to implement data collection and reporting requirements for small-business lending.

The CFPB responds well to data, facts and specifics, making it essential for community bankers to tell their banks’ and small business customers’ stories that show why the Section 1071 proposal is a poor fit. ICBA led the way in helping community banks make their case, including hosting a complementary briefing in December to show community bankers how to personalize their letters. ICBA anticipates a strong showing of letters by the time the Jan. 6 deadline arrives.

The year ahead

While community bankers made huge strides in advancing their agenda through grassroots advocacy in 2021, our work is not over. As the second session of the 117th Congress begins, ICBA will be pushing hard on a number of issues. We want the ILC loophole to be closed. We want Congress to pass the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2019 (SAFE Act S. 910, H.R. 1595), which would create a safe harbor from federal sanctions for financial institutions that serve cannabis-related businesses (CRBs) and ancillary businesses in states and other jurisdictions where cannabis is legal. We want to promote the importance of ECORA. We want to push back against the encroachment of credit unions and Farm Credit System lenders. And much more.

As always, ICBA stands at the ready to protect the franchise value of the nation’s community banks and develop tools to empower them to speak up and be heard.

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