With 39 million members, an operating budget of $1 billion a year and annual lobbying expenditures of $21 million (2% of operating), AARP consistently ranks as one of America’s most powerful interest groups. That seniors vote in greater proportion than most other demographic segments of society adds to AARP’s clout. Founded in 1958 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization, AARP’s ties to Democratic politicians and a liberal agenda have been questioned over the years, but never more so than now.
This week a new for-profit organization, Alliance for Retirement Prosperity, will launch as a conservative alternative to AARP. Others, including the 60 Plus Association and the American Seniors Association, have been in place for some time but have failed to displace AARP or significantly impact AARP membership and influence. The recent resurgence in anti-AARP sentiment among conservatives comes on the heels of AARP’s support for Health Care Reform.
Among the evidence advanced as proof of AARP’s liberal agenda and partisan Democratic leanings over the years are:
• Opposition to the balanced budget amendment
• Support for continuation of the estate tax, often called the “death tax”. Conservapedia claims that AARP’s rationale is a liberal wealth redistribution scheme to “help reduce the concentration of wealth”
• Support of the CHIP children’s health program and AARP’s opposition to the Bush veto of expanding the program
• Support of Health Care Reform, including sponsoring “listening sessions” on the issue. The listening sessions were subsequently cancelled.
• Numerous instances of supporting and sponsoring LGBT activities, including gay sensitivity training and gay pride events
• Opposition to Social Security reform that included private retirement accounts and opposition to Medicare reform.
AARP is active in advocating for medical and social research for diseases and medical conditions affecting the elderly and provides reduced cost products and services to its members. It advocates on behalf of seniors on workplace age discrimination issues. Its partnering in the sales of discount insurance and other services and products led to a settlement with the IRS to pay $135 million in back taxes on its “unrelated business income”. Unrelated business income is profitable, i.e. taxable, business income received in addition to tax deductible contributions.
The opponents of AARP take note that the organization receives an average of $86 million a year in federal government grants. While the grants are not used directly for advocacy and lobbying, they certainly offset costs in other AARP activities that free funding for the group’s advocacy efforts. In 2008, AARP executives favored Democrats 10 to 1 over Republicans in the amount of their political donations.
AARP continues to deny any partisan bias.
Sources: Politico; foxnews.com(O’Reilly Report); Conservapedia; humanevents.com; metrovoice.com