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By Lorenzo Cruz

Most political operatives prognosticated that the U.S. Supreme Court would not reverse the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision on the redistricting court case. In early March, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled on a 4–3 decision to adopt Governor Tony Evers’ legislative and congressional maps rather than use the GOP-controlled state Legislature’s version of the maps. 

The majority in the split state Supreme Court decision viewed the Governor’s configured maps as more closely aligned to the ‘least change’ approach, which was used to develop the existing legislative and congressional boundaries drawn a decade ago. The state Supreme Court decision was considered a victory for Democrats and a setback for the GOP.

The Governor’s maps had 55 GOP seats and 44 Dem seats in the State Assembly and 20 GOP seats and 13 Dem seats in the State Senate. By contrast, the GOP maps had 64 Assembly GOP seats and 35 Dem seats and 22 Senate GOP seats and 12 Dem seats. Even under the Governor’s new maps, Democrats still had an arduous path to regaining majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.

In what many capitol observers considered a surprising move, the nation’s highest court in a 7–2 majority overturned the ruling and found that the state court erred in its application of the Voters Rights Act (VRA), which led to the creation of a seventh majority Black Assembly district. Currently, there are six majority Black districts on the map. The GOP-designed maps contained five majority Black districts. The U.S. Supreme Court also rejected the GOP’s request to overturn the Governor’s congressional maps. 

In the appeal, GOP lawmakers contended that Evers’ plan violated the U.S. Constitution Equal Protection Clause because it improperly applied the federal VRA when drawing seven majority Black Assembly districts in the Milwaukee area. The U.S. Supreme Court conservative block sided with the GOP position and sent the issue back to the state court. The Supreme Court’s reversal in the case meant more rounds of court activity around what the maps should look like.

The state Supreme Court’s decision could have brought resolution or more litigation at the federal court. In early April, Wisconsin was under a cloud of uncertainty and momentarily waiting in limbo on the maps. However, the judicial winds changed swiftly again in mid-April with the state Supreme Court in a 4–3 decision approving the GOP’s version of the legislative maps. With the elections looming in the fall and nomination papers set to circulate on April 15, the state Supreme Court acted decisively on the case. The Wisconsin Supreme Court found the Wisconsin Legislature’s maps complied with the Equal Protection Clause, along with all other applicable federal and state legal requirements. Furthermore, the state Supreme Court concluded the Legislature’s maps were race neutral and followed the ‘least change’ approach, which the state’s highest court adopted a decade ago.

WBA expected interested parties on both sides to fight vigorously and exhaust all avenues in the judicial process to secure legal, legislative, and congressional maps that support their desired political outcomes. Barring any more legal challenges, the state Supreme Court’s action brings closure to the redistricting court case in 2022.

The political stakes are extremely high with control of the U.S. Congress and state Legislature as well as Wisconsin’s Gubernatorial seat in play. The Badger State could again be a battleground
and a bellwether for the rest of the country for hotly contested races. Stay tuned for more political developments as the drama continues to unfold in the primary and general elections.

Triangle Background

Ken Thompson HeadshotBy Kenneth D. Thompson

As my time as WBA Chair comes to a close on May 31, and I prepare to hand the baton over to Daniel Peterson, I wish to reflect upon the remarkable efforts bankers throughout our state have made this year to ensure the success of our industry. Even as we continue to feel the residual impacts of the pandemic, Wisconsin bankers continue to face every challenge in stride and stand as trusted partners in their communities.

 

Advocacy

This year, over 100 bankers from around the state attended WBA’s annual Capitol Day at the State Capitol in Madison. In addition to hearing from Wisconsin political leaders, bankers met with legislators to convey how issues like credit union expansion, banking regulatory modernization, interchange fee legislation, and elder fraud directly impact their local economies and consumers.

Similarly, many bankers have testified on several WBA key issues in the last year. Your grassroot involvement was critical in preventing bills such as those allowing for the expansion of credit unions from moving past either House. Your engagement in testifying, commenting, and supporting WBA’s efforts further unites our industry.

Education

As bankers continue to embrace new post-pandemic realities, WBA staff too is learning and shifting to best meet the needs of WBA members. Between new hybrid approaches to specific conferences and events geared at keeping our bankers informed — thousands of bankers from throughout the state have benefited from WBA’s adaptability in times of uncertainty which has allowed banks across the state to continue to grow and embrace each challenge faced.

These challenges, though difficult, have also been extremely rewarding. Bankers have shown their innovation and flexibility not only for the sake of their team members, but for their communities. This year, over 100 banks participated in WBA’s fifth annual Power of Community Week to engage with members of their communities through various service events. Throughout the year, the efforts bankers make in establishing connections within the communities they serve prove valuable in aiding the financial wellbeing of our neighbors. Additionally, your efforts assist in shaping the public’s opinion of the banking industry — a valuable perspective to hold especially as we approach election season — continue to explore new ways of embracing technology, and evolve as an industry.

I would also like to extend a sincere ‘thank you’ to WBA President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels and her staff — I speak for many of us when I say I am deeply grateful for the work that the association does for the banking community in Wisconsin and beyond.

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

As WBA’s fiscal year concludes at the end of May, I am continually impressed with how bankers and WBA staff members alike take each challenge in stride. While disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic have yet to fully subside, our Association has continued its focus in promoting a healthy environment for banks in Wisconsin through actively advocating, educating, and supporting members.

In March, the Association celebrated 130 years of serving Wisconsin banks. Like it was in the first meetings of the WBA, advocacy continues to be a major focal point in our mission to support the banking industry. This year, 100 bankers from across the state attended WBA’s annual Capitol Day in Madison. Additionally, 112 banks designated Advocacy Officers to coordinate regulatory, legislative, and community advocacy efforts alongside the WBA.

With your help, 10 WBA legislative priorities or WBA-influenced bills were signed into law during the 2021–22 legislative session. WBA’s government relations team has also been busy this past fiscal year fundraising and looking ahead to the 2022 elections in Wisconsin. As of this writing, Wisconsin bankers have contributed a total of $192,193 to WBA’s political action and issue advocacy funds. Be it a donation or attendance at a public hearing, I deeply appreciate your efforts in ensuring the success of our industry!

In addition to advocating on behalf of the Wisconsin banking industry, our Association prides itself on providing bankers with in-depth and up-to-date educational opportunities. WBA offered 95 training programs and events tailored to every level of the bank this fiscal year. Of these events, 4,750 bankers were in attendance to expand their expertise and network with peers. As COVID restrictions continually loosen in the state, many WBA conferences and events have returned either in person or to a hybrid setting.

Above all, WBA’s top priority for the last 130 years has been supporting its members however possible. This year alone, nearly 1,600 bankers utilized WBA’s Legal Hotline and each day, over 2,600 bankers across the state receive the Wisconsin Banker Daily, featuring recent industry and compliance-related news, straight to their inbox.

Looking ahead to WBA’s next fiscal year, in addition to our efforts advocating and educating, WBA staff will continue to update resources and provide Wisconsin banks with the best tools for insurance, services, and products. For more information on WBA’s 2021–22 fiscal year, please look for a complete, in-depth Year in Review in the upcoming June Wisconsin Banker.

As always, I thank you for your support of WBA. Your membership continues to allow us to advocate for our industry both at the state level and in D.C., educate beginning and experienced bankers, and provide resources for all areas of the bank. Invoices for the new fiscal year dues will arrive in the mail by the beginning of June. If you have any questions or concerns about your membership, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

For 130 years, advocacy has been at the core of WBA’s mission and a key focus of the banking industry. While advocacy is not directly in the job description of most banking positions, bankers have long recognized that being actively engaged in all aspects of advocacy helps preserve the franchise value of banks.

I’m incredibly proud of how many bankers took time out of their busy schedules to send letters, make calls, participate in hearings in Madison, travel to Washington, D.C., attend public meetings of elected officials, and personally contribute to the industry’s political action funds throughout this last year! All of these efforts were critically important to augment WBA’s own work in achieving policy success for our industry. Recently, we mailed each member the WBA Advocacy Report which highlights the industry’s advocacy accomplishments this biennium. It was a very active session with WBA working hard on both offense and defense!

In that same mailing, each member received a copy of our Advocacy Toolkit which contains our annual fundraising request for political funds from you, your team, and your bank. With the number of banks in the state shrinking, it is more important than ever for everyone to step up and contribute to this industry effort. I recognize that the money side of advocacy is not always the most appealing; however, it is critical to make sure those who support banking are elected to office in Madison and in Washington, D.C. Our goal for this calendar year is to raise $300,000 — a feat we have not accomplished in the last four years. Ideally, we would welcome every banker contributing as even small dollar contributions help make a big difference. I personally give at least $4,000 each year, and I encourage executive management to give generously this year as well since our livelihoods depend on the success of this great industry. In 2021, 152 bankers earned the Silver Triangle award by contributing at least $500 to our advocacy efforts. I encourage new members to consider joining at the Silver Triangle level and urge existing members to double, triple, or quadruple their donation amount. Your contribution to any combination of the Wisbankpac, ABW, or the issue advocacy fund would dramatically move WBA closer to achieving its calendar year fundraising goal.

In addition to personal contributions, I encourage each bank to consider making an issue advocacy contribution. This is a corporate contribution, payable to WBA, that we use to join with our business coalition partners to create pro-business public policy messages. These dollars are also extremely helpful to achieve our advocacy goals. I welcome and encourage corporate contributions of any amount; and for those whose bank give at least $5,000, we are hosting three special outings in Kohler, June 20–21, that two individuals may attend.

Finally, the WBA advocacy team is very willing to come and speak in person to your staff and/or board of directors on our current advocacy work. I promise this is not going to only be a sales pitch for money (although we will mention political giving at the end). Our team is able to structure the presentation in a manner to which you prefer and can include talking about policy issues affecting the banking industry here in Wisconsin and in DC, as well as redistricting, key legislative races, regulatory initiatives, and other similar topics. Contact me anytime to schedule this type of presentation.

If you did not receive the Advocacy Toolkit in the mail or would like additional fundraising templates/materials to share with your staff, please let me know. Thank you for all you do to advocate for the banking industry!

By Lorenzo Cruz

March Madness marks the start of the NCAA basketball tournament and the conclusion to an active 2022 legislative session for the Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) government relations (GR) team.

A Successful Legislative Session in the Books

WBA successfully defeated two bills which would have negatively impacted the banking industry. AB 478/SB 451 would have broadened the powers of credit unions by allowing for: non-member participation in loans, the ability to issue and offer supplemental forms of capital for all credit unions, the automatic adoption of federally chartered credit union activities or powers for state-chartered credit unions, and the broadening of the authority of credit unions on holding property. During the negotiations, it became evident that the priority for the Wisconsin Credit Union League (WCUL) was their supplemental capital change which contributed to the demise of the bill. WBA effectively lobbied and defeated the bills in the Assembly and Senate.

Another piece of legislation that drew a great amount of WBA’s lobbying attention was a bill related to interchange fees. AB 587/SB 572 would have prohibited the application of the interchange fee to the tax portion of the credit card transaction and would have provided a penalty for a violation. A retailer coalition advocated aggressively for the legislative change and WBA, WCUL, and several credit card companies opposed the effort. If passed, the bill would have required credit card companies to implement a split tender transaction for purchasing products or services, which means customers would have to swipe their credit card for the retail sum purchase and then pay with either cash or check for the tax portion of the transaction. WBA warned legislators of the cost shift, customer confusion and frustration that could follow from the change. The bills died in the Senate and Assembly Financial Institutions Committees.

Other bills worth noting are AB 596/SB 596 related to banking modernization and AB 45/SB 19 and AB 46/ SB 20 related to elder fraud. The banking modernization bill would have removed outdated regulation and other impediments to banking and the elder fraud bill would have provided banks with more tools to help protect older customers from fraud and abuse. The legislative proposals passed overwhelmingly in one House but then failed to be acted upon in committee or placed on the calendar for a floor vote. In some ways, the bills became collateral damage from the credit union battle. WBA did make considerable progress on both issues and will collaborate with legislators to reintroduce similar bills in the next legislative session.

Looking Ahead to Next Year

With the end of the March session, WBA GR shifts the team’s focus to political fundraising, member outreach, and strategic planning for the 2023 session. Many of the legislative issues identified above will return and be debated in the next state budget or advanced as separate pieces of legislation. WBA needs to prepare and lay the groundwork for the fight ahead on these critical public policy initiatives.

All members — big, medium, and small — must be more engaged financially in the political process and committed to grassroots advocacy to advance the industry’s priorities. Political campaigns have continued to trend upwards in cost, and the 2022 fall elections should see more spending records broken for state and federal races. With control for the East Wing in play and majorities at stake in both State and Federal Houses, expect hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent in Wisconsin which has become a battleground state for the rest of the country. WBA can ill afford to be a spectator. Sitting on the sidelines runs the risk of electing anti-banking candidates which could have severe negative consequences for our industry. It is imperative to have the political funds in place for WBA to support pro-banking incumbent legislators and challengers. Individual members are strongly encouraged to give to the Wisbankpac or Alliance of Bankers for Wisconsin (ABW) Conduit and corporations are urged to contribute generously to WBA’s issue advocacy fund. For more information go to www.wisbank.com/give.

Triangle Background

By John Cronin

In a 7–2 decision released Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision the Wisconsin Supreme Court delivered three weeks ago on new state legislative district maps. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a similar request to overturn congressional boundaries set by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. A brief timeline:

  • November 11, 2021 – GOP-controlled Legislature passes new legislative and congressional maps
  • November 18, 2021 – Dem. Governor Tony Evers vetoes those maps
  • November 30, 2021 – Wisconsin Supreme Court sets “least change” approach to analyzing proposed maps parties submit to the Court
  • January 19, 2022 – Wisconsin Supreme Court oral arguments on redistricting case, proposed maps submitted by interested parties (Legislature, Governor, Wisconsin members of Congress, etc.)
  • March 3, 2022 – Wisconsin Supreme Court delivers a 4–3 ruling in favor of maps Gov. Evers submitted to the Court (Ziegler, R. Bradley, and Roggensack dissent)
  • March 7, 2022 – GOP-controlled Legislature appeals the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the Governor’s maps adopted by the Court were inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In question were seven districts fully or partially located in the City of Milwaukee.
  • March 23, 2022 – U.S. Supreme Court rules the Wisconsin Supreme Court erred in their application of Court decisions on the guarantee of equal protection and the Voting Rights Act. (7–2 decision, Justices Sotomayor and Kagan dissent)
What’s next?

The U.S. Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Wisconsin Supreme Court to either select a different map submission or reconsider the Governor’s maps in a manner consistent with the Court’s opinion today.

An April 15 deadline looms: this will be the first day legislative candidates may circulate nomination papers to get on the ballot for the Fall election.

By Wisconsin Bankers Association President and CEO Rose Oswald Poels 

In a deal announced yesterday, Summit Credit Union will acquire West Bend’s Commerce State Bank. This marks the sixth acquisition of a taxpaying Wisconsin bank by a tax-exempt credit union in a decade, continuing a concerning trend of taxpaying community banks being bought by large, growth-oriented credit unions. The acquisition will bring Summit Credit Union to nearly $6 billion in assets with 54 locations. With Commerce State Bank’s $837 million in assets, this is one of the largest credit union acquisitions of a bank nationwide to date.

Wisconsin taxpayers should be very concerned about this transaction as the state alone will lose over $1 million annually in future tax revenues with this sale because credit unions do not pay any state or federal income tax. With large credit unions becoming indistinguishable from tax-paying banks, it is time for the public and elected officials to question the public policy rationale for this significant tax benefit. Why should the 14 Wisconsin-based credit unions over $1 billion in asset size pay nothing in state income tax to support social services, law enforcement, schools, and other public services? Individuals, families, and tax-paying businesses are left to shoulder these growing expenses. Not only is tax revenue lost in these transactions, but jobs in the state are often lost when the acquirer is an out-of-state credit union and/or when certain functions are consolidated. This type of consolidation is not in the public’s interest.  

While Wisconsin now has two pending bank acquisition transactions by credit unions, credit unions are also actively seeking expansionist powers from the legislature and their regulator that, among other things, would permit credit unions to raise capital from private equity investors. The days of small, employer- or neighborhood-focused credit unions are long gone. Elected officials should carefully scrutinize this legislation and strongly oppose Wisconsin AB 478/SB451 as it is in direct conflict with the public policy intent behind the tax exemption granted by this same body decades ago.  

It is time for growth-oriented credit unions to be paying their fair share of taxes. Competition in any industry is fair and healthy, but only when the playing field is level. Taking a tax-paying business off the tax roll by a “not-for-profit,” tax-exempt entity directly harms the citizens of this state and threatens the vibrancy and diversity of our state’s financial system.

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

Friends are people we all want in our lives both personally and professionally, and I’m very humbled to say that Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) has many friends across the banking association industry. This was very evident as we navigated, since May 2021, the trademark legal matter that I discussed earlier last month involving Western Bankers Association. Since my last communication to you, 10 states in the West sent a letter to Steve Andrews, the president and CEO of Western Bankers, expressing their concerns and requesting that he address them — including the trademark legal matter. Following that, the states involved in the trademark legal matter organized 17 state associations outside of the West and 15 state association board chairs, including the Wisconsin Bankers Association’s, to sign on to a coalition letter to Mr. Andrews and his executive committee, supporting the concerns of the 10 western states indicating that something needs to be done to resolve these issues and repair the fracture that exists across the Alliance of state bankers associations.

I am very pleased to say that I received an email late on Friday, February 12 from our attorneys indicating that Western Bankers had filed on Friday in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) “Surrender of Registration” documents for both CBA and WBA acronyms. This is a long-overdue result but very positive news! With the filing by Western Bankers of their surrender document without our consent, the USPTO, just this morning — pursuant to the rules — granted our Petition to Cancel and entered judgment against Western Bankers in our legal action. This morning’s action by the USPTO effectively favorably ends our legal action and because judgment on the Petition was entered in our favor, the ruling is with prejudice, which means that Western Bankers is precluded from trying to register the WBA mark in the future.

In addition to the public support of 16 other state associations signing on to the coalition letter, several other state association colleagues made phone calls to Mr. Andrews and/or California bankers to support our concerns. Furthermore, Joe Witt, president and CEO of Minnesota Bankers Association, organized a legal fund for the four states involved in the legal action that, had the legal process continued, would have helped offset legal expenses for all four states. Mr. Witt sent out communication to the associations in the central part of the country, along with others, requesting donations and seeding the fund with MBA’s own $5,000 contribution. The outpouring of financial support we received from many other state associations for this fund was inspiring.

All of these collective efforts demonstrate why it is so powerful for the state associations to work together for the benefit of the banking industry. So much good can be accomplished from collaboration and respect for one another. Certainly, this action by Western Bankers Association is a very positive step forward in the right direction toward repairing the fracture that exists in the Alliance. However, I continue to remain concerned about their attempts to cross state borders in selling education without the involvement of the state association, soliciting membership from banks with no physical presence in California, and sending general communications under the guise of “community banking” to bankers across the country. I am deeply grateful for all of your support of WBA and hope that you will continue to keep the issues we still struggle with as it relates to Western Bankers in your mind when you receive emails or other solicitations from them. I know my state association friends across the country who have supported us in this legal matter will appreciate your awareness as well.

Triangle Background

Rose Oswald PoelsBy Rose Oswald Poels

As the 2021–2022 legislative sessions come to a close next month, our Government Relations team at the Wisconsin Bankers Association have been working tirelessly to ensure that the voices and needs of our member banks are heard by our legislators both in Madison and in Washington, D.C.

Grassroots advocacy is foundational to our work at WBA. On January 18, over 100 bankers from across the state met at the State Capitol in Madison for WBA’s annual Capitol Day. Along with advocating for our legislative agenda, bankers had the opportunity to hear from the elected leadership from both parties and several insiders regarding the remainder of the 2021–2022 session and the upcoming November election. I want to thank all of the 2022 Cap Day attendees for your grassroots advocacy for our industry and continued efforts in keeping our legislators informed.

Along with your general advocacy in support of issues affecting our industry, the efforts of WBA-member bankers specifically on the WBA-led banking modernization bill directly helped in this bill clearing two significant hurdles just last week. On Tuesday, the full State Senate unanimously passed SB 596 on a voice vote. Then on Wednesday, the Assembly Committee on Financial Institutions recommended the bill for passage on a 9–0 vote. I am incredibly grateful to bill authors Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) and Rep. Terry Katsma (R-Oostburg) for their efforts in advancing this important legislation. The bill is now eligible to be voted on by the full State Assembly, the final step before it would head to Gov. Evers for signature.

This spring, WBA will also be joining both the American Bankers Association (ABA) and Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) for our spring Washington, D.C. visits. These summits, taking place March 7–9 and May 1–4 respectively, are critical in making your voice heard by policymakers in Washington, D.C. Please let me know if you are interested in attending one of these two key summits at your earliest convenience.

2022 is off to a fast start on policy matters and the hectic pace is only expected to continue as we approach several high-profile elections later this year. As always, I know that your grassroots involvement will not only help us shape the future of our industry, but, also, assist us in advocating successfully for the banking industry throughout the remainder of the year.

The Wisconsin Bankers Association is headed back to Washington D.C. this spring, and we invite you to join us! As we have in the past, WBA will be joining with both the American Bankers Association and Independent Community Bankers of America for our spring Washington visits and will be scheduling Hill visits with those in our congressional delegation willing to meet with us in person.   

The first trip will be the WBA/ABA Washington Summit, scheduled for March 7–9, 2022. There is a virtual option to this Summit as well. For more information and to register, please visit www.aba.com/summit.

Please note that the District of Columbia has implemented a citywide vaccination entry requirement which requires bankers attending the Summit in person to provide proof of vaccination upon arrival at the Marriott Marquis hotel. Proof of a negative PCR test is not acceptable. Masks will also be required during all Summit-related events, except when actively eating or drinking. 

The second trip will be the WBA/ICBA Capital Summit, May 1–4, 2022. Registration for this event will open very soon. For more information, please visit www.icba.org/capitalsummit.

WBA members are welcome on either trip regardless of whether your bank is a member of one of the national trade groups. Make your voice heard and join WBA at one of these two advocacy trips! If you have any questions, please contact WBA’s Rose Oswald Poels.