Aaron Stetter: Start planning for August recess

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), seated center, in dialogue with community bankers during the ICBA Capital Summit, Washington, D.C., last month. Photo by Chris A Williams

With the congressional summer break right around the corner, now is the time to connect with legislators in their home districts and advocate for the issues important to community banks. Here’s how to arrange a face-to-face meeting with lawmakers, as well as talk about the legislative priorities they can take back to Capitol Hill.

By Aaron Stetter, ICBA

Summer is just beginning, but August’s congressional recess will be here before you know it. It’s a crucial opportunity for community bank advocacy, especially with midterm elections on the horizon—and now is the time to begin planning to make the most of it.

When members of Congress return to their home districts, they will be eager to connect with constituents and secure support in the upcoming elections. They’ll also want to check the pulse of their communities so they can better understand their wants and needs—and no one is better equipped to provide those insights than a community banker.

Anyone can show up and ask a legislator and speak broadly about policy change, but community bankers have one of the most effective tools in the advocacy arsenal: personal stories. When it comes to issues like small business lending and fostering Main Street prosperity, community bankers don’t have platitudes. They have real-world examples from the legislator’s home district.

Community bankers can take an abstract idea like competition from tax-advantaged credit unions and show exactly how it hurts consumers, small businesses and local taxpayers. They can use stories from the bank to show how a lack of a safe harbor law for legal cannabis banking directly impacts small business owners. They can tell why a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) would have a negative impact on funding for local lending. It’s all about personalization.

Stories like these are best told face-to-face, and the August recess offers many ways to make the case. From bank tours to in-office meetings to fundraisers, the opportunity is there for community bankers who are prepared to act on it.

Making personal connections

There are plenty of ways to connect in-person with lawmakers, especially if you plan ahead. Their calendars fill up quickly, so now is the time to start reaching out.

Plan a meeting. Reach out to legislative staff to introduce yourself and request a meeting. Details are key. Let them know why you want to meet with them and what issues you’d like to talk about. It might take some follow up to schedule the meeting, so be persistent and polite. Don’t be discouraged if you are offered a meeting with staff. They are valuable contacts and extremely influential. It is absolutely worth your while.

Invite your legislator to visit your community bank. If looking to host your lawmaker at your community bank, emphasize who will be in attendance, what will be discussed and exactly why you would like to meet with the lawmaker. These kinds of specifics make it more likely the request will be approved. If you’re granted a visit, use the opportunity to highlight how your community bank makes a difference in the community and how the policies you’re advocating for will help you better serve your customers.

Attend a political fundraiser. August recess is a great time to attend a political fundraiser in your state to support the election of pro-community bank candidates. Whether it’s your only chance for face time or it gives you another opportunity to reinforce your message, fundraisers are a way to show lawmakers that you value their support.

Whenever possible, bankers should reach out to their ICBA affiliated state groups, as well, to let them know about a meeting and even invite them to it, if appropriate. For political fundraisers, community bankers can reach out to Mary Randolph Gannon (maryrandolph.gannon@icba.org) to find out if ICBPAC might be able to provide assistance.

Key legislative priorities

As we roll into the midterm elections, communities should take advantage of August recess to advocate for legislative priorities. Ask members of Congress to:

  • Prevent SBA direct lending. Cosponsor legislation (H.R. 6037/S. 3382) to save taxpayers money by preventing Small Business Administration (SBA) direct lending.
  • Tax fairness to promote rural prosperity. Support the ECORA Act (H.R. 1977/S. 2202), which will provide lower interest rates and better terms on rural loans by providing that interest on bank loans secured by farmland and homes in rural communities is tax exempt.
  • Create a safe harbor for legal cannabis businesses. The Senate should pass The SAFE Banking Act (H.R. 1996/S. 910), which would create a federal safe harbor for banking legal cannabis-related businesses. The House has passed the SAFE Banking Act six times.
  • Close the ILC loophole. Support for the Close the ILC Loophole Act (H.R. 5912) to preserve America’s long-standing separation of banking and commerce.
  • Credit unions and Farm Credit System lenders. Support congressional review of the NCUA and the FCA and modernization of the tax code to restore a balanced and competitive financial landscape.
  • Congressional oversight of digital assets. Examine the risks and unintended consequences associated with a CBDC and oppose efforts to introduce a CBDC.

Not sure what to say to lawmakers or how to best advocate for your bank and your industry? ICBA has all the advocacy tools and tips you need at icba.org/advocacy. From policy highlights to best practices for grassroots advocacy, you’ll find everything you need to effectively prepare for a meeting with lawmakers or their staff.

Don’t delay. Reach out today and get on your lawmakers’ August recess calendar.

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