In today’s hyper-political and volatile environment, the stark reality is that businesses and banks need to proactively engage in the political process if they want to be successful over the long term. The banking industry knows all too well, unfortunately, how decisions made by elected officials at both the federal and state level can do more to impact the profitability of our NBA-member institutions than almost any other factor (think Dodd-Frank or ability to repay rules). With the close of 2018, I wanted to recognize the hard work and important impact of the NBA’s Political Action Committee (BankPAC).
As a refresher, the bipartisan NBA BankPAC solicits voluntary contributions from member banks and its officers and staff. These collective BankPAC funds are then provided to candidates for state constitutional and state and federal legislative elected office who understand and are supportive of banking, business and free enterprise. Your NBA has operated both a state BankPAC and federal BankPAC for more than 40 years. The two separate, segregated funds have two different focuses and unique sets of rules, regulations and limitations.
NBA BankPAC is operated by a committee of 29 volunteer bankers representing institutions of all sizes and each of the NBA’s geographic groups across the state. These dedicated committee members work tirelessly to coordinate the solicitation of BankPAC funds, and meet regularly to discuss and consider support and funding levels for various candidates. BankPAC Committee support is determined by considering recommendations of individual NBA members and a careful review of the following criteria: the candidate’s position on various banking and business issues; the candidate’s voting record, leadership ability, committee assignments; and the probability of the candidate’s success. Additionally, committee members frequently reach out to other Nebraska bankers and friends to garner further background information on candidates. This process is not an exact science, but with solid input from committee members, local bankers and staff, the NBA has a strong history of supporting winning candidates. I want to extend my appreciation to NBA BankPAC Chairman Zach Karpf from Platte Valley Bank in Scottsbluff who is completing his service as this year. Mr. Karpf has been a proactive committee leader and an important voice for the NBA BankPAC.
The NBA State BankPAC solicits financial support from individuals and bank contributions from state-chartered banks as well as state-chartered holding companies. Funds in the state BankPAC, as the name suggests, are focused on supporting candidates for state legislative and constitutional offices. NBA staff is directly responsible for collecting and managing state BankPAC dollars, and all reporting requirements by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission including quarterly filings, pre- and post-election and annual year-end reports.
The NBA’s Federal BankPAC solicits contributions from officers and directors of national banks. NBA Federal BankPAC funds are used to support candidates for any of Nebraska’s five Congressional seats. Each year, the NBA Federal BankPAC contributes dollars to the American Bankers Association’s (ABA) affiliate BankPac who then cooperatively makes contributions to Nebraska’s federal incumbents or candidates. The ABA’s long-standing tradition is to only make federal contributions with the support and approval of the NBA. Nebraska bankers, working with NBA staff, then deliver these federal BankPac checks to federal candidates. One of the primary benefits of having an affiliated federal BankPac is that the ABA handles much of the reporting to the Federal Election Commission regarding candidate contributions, which as you can imagine is cumbersome.
It was another outstanding year for the NBA BankPAC with total 2018 collections exceeding our goal of $155,000! More than 1,000 bank employees, officers, bank directors and 67 state-chartered member banks or holding companies contributed in 2018. Funds contributed were from a wide range of the membership, from the smallest and largest NBA members.
Throughout the 2018 campaign cycle, the NBA BankPAC provided support in each of the 24 legislative district races. In addition, BankPAC contributed to candidates seeking state constitutional offices including governor, attorney general, state treasurer and secretary of state. Finally, the NBA Federal BankPAC provided campaign support to Congressmen Smith, Bacon and Fortenberry and Senator Fischer. Many of our politically active NBA members go one step further by providing additional personal and business support to sister-organizations like the ABA’s voter education fund, Friends of Traditional Banking and the NICB PAC. It is fair to say that Nebraska bankers were key financial players in both state and federal elections during 2018!
Going forward, I have four requests to further strengthen the NBA’s political and campaign efforts. First, continue to financially support NBA BankPAC. If you have not historically contributed, please consider supporting NBA BankPAC as part of your bank’s culture. Similarly, please encourage your employees to get engaged in the BankPAC effort. While NBA BankPAC contributions are clearly voluntary, many NBA member institutions have found fun and creative ways to encourage all employees, officers and directors to offer financial support.
Second, term limits are continuing to have a major impact on the philosophy and character of the Nebraska legislature. Finding and supporting strong candidates is a key component of the banking industry’s success. If you have an employee or someone in your region who has an interest in state policy, proactively encourage them to run for elected office. Investigate adjusting their employment position to allow them to serve as a state senator while maintaining a prorated share of work responsibilities. As you might imagine, the current $12,000 state legislative salary significantly limits the number of qualified candidates for the Legislature.
Third, as discussed earlier, the NBA’s BankPAC efforts rely upon the direction, leadership and engagement of our member institutions. Your active participation and feedback is important! Please encourage a representative from your bank to volunteer for the BankPAC Committee. Register a team from your bank to attend the NBA State GR Forum scheduled for January 31 in Lincoln. If federal issues are more to your liking, consider attending or sending members of your staff to the NBA’s Washington D.C. visit scheduled for April 1-3, 2019.
Finally, your NBA team does an outstanding job in the government relations arena. However, the NBA relies heavily on feedback from local bankers when selecting candidates to support. In future legislative races, please reach out and get to know the candidates in your region. Proactively share your personal knowledge with the NBA’s BankPAC Committee members and NBA staff so we can invest in the best candidates to guide our state’s future!
Until next time,
Richard J. Baier
The 2017 National Report Card on Financial Literacy in High Schools gave Nebraska a “C” grade related to personal finance education. This same study offered “A” grades to five states and a “B” grade to 19 others. Last September, the Nebraska Department of Education (DOE) issued a public interest survey in relation to Nebraska’s current Social Studies Standards in our schools, which first incorporated basic requirements related to personal finance when last updated in 2012. While the NBA encouraged membership participation, unfortunately, the survey structure, detail and design were challenging for those not directly trained or knowledgeable about the current Standards and educational curriculum development, and thus private sector input was limited. The good news, however, is that the DOE remains open to additional input.
In response, the NBA recently sent the Nebraska DOE a comprehensive list of suggested additions/alterations to their Social Studies Standards. To provide background on our motive in doing so, here is what the research states: Currently, 22 states in the U.S. require students to complete a course in economics while 17 states mandate a course in personal finance as a graduation requirement. Recent research conducted by the Nebraska Council on Economic Education (NCEE) found that only 210 of Nebraska’s 244 school districts offer a personal finance class. Of these, 95 districts require completion of a personal finance class for graduation. These 95 districts account for approximately 60 percent of Nebraska’s total student population. While the names of the individual districts were not included in the NCEE research, we have learned that district size does not seem to be a limiting factor. In addition, conversations with many educators across the state suggest that requiring a personal finance class is not necessarily a question of resources, but rather a question of prioritization.
Based on the interaction bankers have with their many customers across Nebraska, it is evident a need exists to further increase the rigor of personal finance training in all Nebraska schools through enhanced school standards and/or legislative direction. A plausible option would be to amend Rule X to require all Nebraska students to take a semester-long personal finance class in their sophomore/junior year, coupled with curriculum direction in all other grades. Fortunately, legislation regarding this issue is expected to be introduced in the current session of the Nebraska Legislature, which began Jan. 9.
I understand and appreciate the many social and cultural challenges as well as the regulatory demands placed on Nebraska schools and educators. While understanding complex mathematic principles is an important skill in growing one’s mind, for example, we must also recognize that few students will utilize those skills in their future careers. From a practical perspective, the banking community knows that acquiring a strong personal finance skill set is essential to prepare Nebraska students for the future. Personal financial decisions will impact every student at every turn, regardless of their background, educational attainment, socioeconomic status or career tract. One needs to look no further than the current student loan crisis in our country to understand how a lack of sound personal financial decision making is inhibiting the future success of our students, graduates and ultimately our state’s economy.
The NBA’s original letter to the DOE contained 21 suggestions for their Standards on what the department could evaluate differently and what we feel is imperative to teach Nebraska students. For brevity’s sake, I have condensed the list to 10 suggestions we provided. Ideally, the DOE’s Social Studies Standards should be written so students leaving high school are equipped with the skills to:
Just as our members banks have done for years, our plan is to continue to monitor and work to improve our state’s economic health, the backbone of the financial literacy level of our next generations. We will also continue to provide access to online training tools like EverFi, visit local classrooms when asked, conduct tours of our banks and provide teaching aids as requested.
In addition, the NBA and our member institutions remain committed to working with the Nebraska education community to strengthen the financial understanding of our students and to make them both career- and life-ready.
Until next time,
Richard J. Baier
Richard Baier, a proud husband, father of two, and the president/CEO of the Nebraska Bankers Association (NBA). Avid about growing the Cornhusker State's banking industry.