AARP Puts Liberal Agenda First, Seniors Last

Commentary by Jim Martin


    Groucho Marx famously quipped that he wouldn’t want to belong to any group that would want him as a member. Perhaps from the great beyond Groucho can take heart in the fact he’d feel perfectly comfortable as a member of today’s AARP, whose embrace of “Obamacare” once again demonstrates their complete indifference toward their 35 million dues-paying members, if not outright hostility toward seniors everywhere.

    Those of us who have followed the AARP closely over the years (as I’ve been doing since 1962, leading me to dub them the “Association Against Retired Persons”) are hardly shocked to find them siding against seniors in order to curry favor with the liberal politicians who subsidize them to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
    Here are the facts: In the coming decade, the ranks of those eligible for Medicare will swell by 30%, yet the AARP cheerleads healthcare ‘reform’ that would cut over $500 billion from the program and doesn’t add a single doctor or nurse to attend to patients.

    Obama and the Congressional Democrats promise these cuts won’t lead to any reduction in benefits, or to rationing, or to reduced services of any kind. But those who believe the ‘savings’ can be made up for in reform and government efficiency would have to be the same people who believe the U.S. Post Office is a well-oiled machine.

    Try this analogy: If you belonged to a health club that told you they would add 30% more members and not expand their staff or equipment, all the while making cuts in their operating budget, do you think your experience there would be more ‘efficient?’ Of course not. You would get in the habit of keeping thick novels handy while waiting for a worn-out treadmill to become available. The limit of this hypothetical of course is that there is a big difference between waiting for a treadmill and waiting for a doctor to provide life-saving, quality care.

    One would think that such a clear and direct assault on the resources of a crucial seniors program would prompt strong opposition from the most prominent senior’s organization in the nation. Well don’t hold your breath, because the AARP actually publicly thanked the bill’s author, Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA).

    The AARP has taken the position that they won’t support any legislation that cuts benefits, but this is patently untrue. President Obama stated before an AARP forum July 28 that he plans to cut $177 billion from the Medicare Advantage program, a supplemental insurance option for seniors that is extremely popular with those taking part. A recent survey revealed 97 percent of those in the Advantage program are happy with the care it provides, yet cuts would force these seniors to either make up the difference from their own pockets, or go without the preventative care they currently receive.

    Combine the billions in cuts to Medicare with the legislation’s infamous “death panels,” where government bureaucrats looking for healthcare “savings” counsel the elderly on when to refuse medical treatment and even nutrition, (pp. 425-446) and you have a bill that is nothing short of an assault on older Americans.

    But putting the wishes of Washington’s liberal politicians before the interests of their own members is nothing new for the AARP. Though billing themselves as “non-partisan,” the AARP is marinated in Washington’s liberal culture. This is a group that honored liberal Harry Belafonte as “AARP Man of the Year,” and consistently promotes their liberal celebrities.

    Why, you may ask, does a senior’s advocacy group take positions in favor of gun-control, amnesty for illegal aliens, and even the death-tax? Easy, the same reason Nancy Pelosi included the AARP in a July 31 memo calling on friendly groups to mobilize support for the President’s healthcare agenda; they are big-government liberal activists eager to ensure that the grants and subsidies keep flowing, and eager to keep their Democrat pals in Washington happy.

    The AARP’s new President, Barry Rand, is an ardent supporter of President Obama and contributed the maximum to his campaign, as did many top executives of the organization. A look at campaign finance records shows that AARP affiliated executives gave to Democrats over Republicans in 2008 to the tune of 10-1, $49,000 in contributions to about $5,000. So much for being “non-partisan.”

    Rand bills himself as a “son of the 60s” and says his “passion” as head of the AARP is to “forward social change” in America. Apparently he is confusing heading the AARP with a Woodstock concert, but at least Mr. Rand is honest enough about his true agenda to help explain why he and his organization continue to abandon the seniors they have been charged to defend.

    Thankfully, America’s seniors are extremely well-informed and have taken notice of the AARP’s desertion of duty. Polls from both the Pew Research Group and Kaiser show support among those 65 and older for the Obama/Waxman plan at less than 30 percent. And it has been seniors and their families who have stormed the town hall meetings to ensure the facts about this legislation had a public airing before Obama could ram it through Congress prior to the August recess.

    To Barry Rand and the bunch at the AARP, the needs of their members have always come after the wishes of their pals in Washington on the left. Their continued claim to be a senior’s organization is a bad comedy that has opened the eyes of millions and led to thousands of AARP cards being torn in half.

    The 60 Plus Association is not a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ in exposing AARP’s liberal big government policies. In 1996, I, along with Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY), testified before a Congressional panel in the House about the AARP’s taxpayer-subsidized enterprise. Senator Simpson held his own hearing earlier.

    AARP is the eight hundred pound gorilla of associations supposedly representing senior citizens. In actuality, the organization is a huge fraud on seniors, profiting by commissions from a variety of money making schemes, receiving millions of taxpayer dollars, and promoting programs of big government and high taxes which hurt, not help, seniors.

    AARP had an unusual origin but one that gave it a tremendous boost in members and money.

    In 1947, Ethel Percy Andrus, a school principal, established the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA) and, in a unique partnership with insurance executive Leonard Davis, formed AARP in 1958. Davis provided insurance policies for NRTA members, and made a personal (though highly controversial) fortune for himself in the process.

    Charles R. Morris, examining the history of AARP in his book AARP: America’s Most Powerful Lobby and the Clash of Generations (New York: Random House/Time- Life Books, 1996), revealed that for much of its existence AARP was under the control of Davis thus “operating as a sales network to hawk very high-priced insurance and a host of other Davis-created products to old people.” (Page 10.) A source of controversy, Davis abandoned his contacts with AARP in the early 1980s.

    Clearly, Ms. Andrus was well-intentioned in wanting to provide much needed, low-cost insurance to retiring teachers, and clearly her original philosophy that the AARP would seek no federal largesse is to be admired and applauded.

    But somewhere down the line, probably after her tenure, the lure of the almighty dollar proved too much and AARP was under a microscope in the 1970’s and 1980’s when Mr. Davis was sent packing to Florida, with much of his, according to press reports, ‘$160 million fortune intact.’ But the full extent of the powerful empire built by AARP did not come to light until hearings sponsored by then U.S. Senator Alan Simpson (R-WY). The investigation of the finances of AARP provided a major bombshell in 1995.

    The organization is a tax-exempt group which collects federal funds, about $86 million annually, from direct grants for such programs as tax counseling for the elderly to providing jobs for seniors under the Senior Environmental Employment Program.  Simpson rightfully raised the question over the use of a non-profit status for a group which makes millions selling its members medicine, insurance, and other products.

    Senator Simpson’s hearings shined the light on an organization which claims to represent senior citizens but in reality represents big government, helped by taxpayer subsidies.

    AARP is a large money-making machine of Fortune 500 proportions. The Internal Revenue Service even looked into AARP’s non-profit status and after some ‘negotiations’ the AARP agreed to pay $135 million ‘in lieu of taxes’ on its money-making schemes conducted between 1985-1993. An additional payment of $15 million was made in 1994. In the latter year, AARP paid the U.S. Postal Service $2.8 million to settle accusations that it improperly used its non-profit privilege. The great irony is that these payments were made to the IRS and the U.S. Postal Service (AARP caught trying to circumvent the law) at the same time the group was receiving hundreds of millions of dollars from the taxpayers over those years.

    AARP can operate on low membership annual dues because of the profits it gets from its other activities and federal funding. In fact, their membership dues can be classified as a ‘loss leader item’ in the world of retail. It gets you in the door at a nominal amount, but profits are amassed with the products it sells you. The Wall Street Journal summed it up well in the title of an editorial (June 23, 1995) about the AARP and other groups who thrive on federal funds such as the National Council of Senior Citizens and The National Council on Aging: “Welfare for Lobbyists.”

    AARP has been consistent in its efforts to promote more federal spending and bigger government. They were active promoters of the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act (1988) which became law; and when seniors found out the outrageous bill they were paying for this new government bonanza, their protests became so strong that Congress took the unheard of action toward a seniors program: it repealed it the next year (1989). AARP found seniors picketing their headquarters with “Down with AARP!” signs because of the organization’s support for the law.

    Over the years, AARP has opposed a balanced budget Constitutional Amendment. They’ve opposed efforts to slow down the rapid growth of Medicare and have been totally indifferent to the need of saving the program for seniors. They have also opposed reform of the Social Security system to save it and have stood against individual retirement accounts. In fact, they deny the Social Security system is in trouble but propose as a ‘salvation’ for the program - the usual prescription of big government groups: raise taxes. They consistently pushed for more spending on entitlement programs.

    And how well do they represent their members? When President Bill Clinton proposed increasing taxation on Social Security recipients above a certain income level, the AARP was strangely silent and, instead of opposing this hardship on seniors, urged approval of a budget and tax deal which would add these taxes.

    So long as AARP aligns itself against seniors, there will be more and more Americans abandoning them as they themselves have been abandoned. I’m sure Groucho would be proud.


    Jim Martin is president of the 60 Plus Association, a non-partisan seniors’ advocacy group founded in 1992 as a counter organization to AARP. Headquartered in Alexandria, VA, 60 Plus has more than 5.5 million citizen-activists with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach to seniors’ issues. The organization has set ending the federal estate tax and saving Social Security for the young as its top priorities and is often viewed as the conservative alternative to the AARP. To learn more about 60 Plus visit their website at or call (703) 807-2070.