When the AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons – one of the wealthiest advocacy groups in the U.S. – began backing the $1.2 trillion House health bill despite concerns about Medicare cuts, death panels and assisted suicide, many members shredded their membership cards, saying the organization no longer represents their interests – but AARP’s history of left-leaning activism on a host of issues may surprise its constituents.
AARP’s Nov. 5 health bill endorsement left many seniors wondering why the powerful group that claims to represent their interests would call for an estimated $500 billion in cuts to Medicare, a system many seniors have indicated that they would like to preserve.
“After carefully monitoring developments in Washington and studying the various legislative proposals, AARP’s all-volunteer Board of Directors – made up of working and retired doctors, nurses, business people, and teachers – has decided to endorse the Affordable Health Care for America Act (H.R. 3962/H.R. 3961) because it delivers on key priorities we’ve been fighting for,” an AARP announcement stated.
But while many seniors believe AARP offers worthwhile discounts on health and car insurance, vacations and advice on financial planning, the group has a history of left-leaning political stances and activism.
Why the AARP health ‘reform’ endorsement?
AARP collects royalties on “Medigap insurance,” a privately purchased insurance coverage that helps pay some of the health-care costs that Medicare doesn’t cover.
However, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Medicare website, seniors have the option of joining Medicare Advantage plans, allowing them to use Medicare funds to purchase private insurance plans that offer extra benefits and lower copayments than the Original Medicare Plan. An estimated 10.2 million seniors have enrolled in Medicare Advantage.
When seniors enroll in Medicare Advantage plans, they often drop Medigap policies. Therefore, the switch may slash Medigap revenues – and simultaneously impact AARP royalties from Medigap insurance.
However, Sec. 1161 of the House bill would slash payments to Medicare Advantage health plans used by 20 percent of seniors and cause them to lose some benefits, including vision and dental coverage.
Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, one of the leading health-care policy organizations in the country, told WND’s Radio America AARP saw that it would lose revenue if it didn’t stop the Medicare Advantage programs.
“The House bill would dramatically cut money out of Medicare Advantage programs, forcing people to need the Medigap policies that are such a big cash cow for the AARP,” she said.
“Seniors are going to have higher costs in Medicare. Because of the cuts in Medicare, they are going to have ever more need for these Medigap policies. So the AARP, therefore, will be able to make even more money off of us,” Turner explained. “The legislation both kills competition that the AARP has with these Medicare Advantage programs, and it boosts the number of people who need the Medigap insurance because Medicare is going to become an even more deficient program than it is now if you take half a trillion dollars out of it.”
Following the money trail
According to the AARP website, the group promises seniors it will be a “voice in Washington and in your state, representing you on issues like Medicare, Social Security and consumer safety.”
But the majority of the money AARP collects doesn’t come from its annual $16 membership dues.
AARP 2008 revenues (in thousands)
AARP’s 2008 consolidated financial statements reveal the organization earns far more income from selling supplementary insurance to members than it takes in from yearly member fees.
The group received nearly $653 million in royalties from private insurance companies that sold products referred by AARP in 2008. It also received an additional $120 million for the ads placed in its publications.
By contrast, AARP collected $249 million in membership dues last year.
While the organization claims to represent almost 40 million Americans over age 50 – nearly as many members as the U.S. Roman Catholic Church – the group has been accused of inflating that number by automatically giving spouses and “domestic partners” free memberships. In reality, $249 million in annual dues would indicate members who actually sought and paid for memberships in 2008 may have numbered closer to 15.6 million.
AARP’s federal funding
AARP is a private, nonprofit group, but the AARP 2008 annual report shows that of the $1.1 billion in revenue AARP received last year $90 million came from a variety of grants, including a substantial amount of federal aid. Its two largest grant programs offer tax counseling for the elderly and job training for low-income seniors.
According to a National Legal and Policy Center report titled, “How the Federal Government Subsidizes AARP,” written by NLPC Director of Policy John Carlisle, AARP administers the federal funds through its the AARP Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity, because AARP is designated as a 501(c)(4) that’s ineligible for federal funds.
“The AARP Foundation is a legally distinct organization that theoretically operates independently of AARP,” Carlisle explained. “It has its own board of directors and staff and can engage in fundraising activities to advance its particular public policy agenda. However, the foundation works so closely with AARP that the two entities are barely indistinguishable.”
According to the report, the AARP Foundation is located in the same building as AARP, where employees work “practically side-by-side with lobbying staff” – and the AARP Foundation’s second largest source of income is AARP.
In a March 2001 letter to the Department of Health and Human Services on federal aid, the AARP Foundation reported receiving money from the Department of Labor, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Justice, according to NLPC.
A 2008 donor list includes mention of “institutional support” from the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Labor.
“[I]t’s outrageous that taxpayers are being used to advance [AARP's] liberal agenda to expand government and thwart Social Security reform,” Carlisle contends. “Ending federal subsidies to AARP would put an end to the unjust practice of publicly funding a highly partisan and controversial interest group.”
Left-leaning activism and campaign contributions
Former President George W. Bush attempted to reform Social Security through the use of private retirement accounts in 2005. His plan sought to permit workers to redirect 4 percent of their Social Security payroll taxes into private accounts that would invest in mutual funds and other securities.
But AARP reacted to Bush’s proposal by slamming its members with mass mailings and spending $5 million on full-page advertisements in 50 newspapers and an additional $5 million on print ads opposing Bush’s plan.
With its nearly 3,000 chapters, AARP attended congressional town-hall meetings to counter Bush’s proposal. The group also targeted seniors in its magazine and official bulletin, delivering it to 22 million U.S. households.
Only three months after beginning the lobbying campaign, AARP reported that 535 members of Congress were blasted with at least 460,000 calls in opposition to Bush’s plan.
“AARP won the battle,” Carlisle wrote. “Due largely to its multimillion-dollar effort as well as considerable legislative lobbying, AARP succeeded in undermining support for private accounts in just a few months.”
But AARP’s left-leaning activism didn’t end there.
According to NLPC, AARP combated tax cuts during the Reagan and Bush administrations. It also fought the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991 and helped the Clinton administration defeat a balanced budget amendment in 1995.
A 2006 AARP Impact Award goes to Harry Belafonte
In 2006, AARP honored singer and activist Harry Belafonte with its Impact Award for doing “something extraordinary to make the world a better place.” Shortly afterward, Belafonte, a Hugo Chavez supporter, called President George W. Bush “the greatest terrorist in the world.”
While AARP bills itself as a nonpartisan group that does not support, oppose or contribute to any candidates or political parties, AARP’s executives and employees overwhelmingly support Democrats.
President Obama with AARP CEO A. Barry Rand (left) and AARP President Jennie Chin Hansen (left) during AARP’s July 28 tele-town-hall on health care (White House photo by Pete Souza)
AARP CEO Barry Rand is a strong supporter of President Obama, and federal records show he contributed $8,900 to Obama’s campaign committees in 2008. According to Federal Election Commission databases, Rand has given $15,900 to Democratic campaign committees since 1995.
Likewise, AARP executive John Killpack gave $1,000 to the Democratic National Committee and $4,350 to Obama’s campaign. AARP strategy consultant Joseph Liu gave $2,300 to Obama’s campaign and an additional $2,300 to Obama’s victory fund.
A search of campaign contributions by AARP executives and employees reveals they overwhelmingly gave to Obama’s campaign and Democrats during the 2008 election cycle – by a ratio of 14 workers to one.
According to those records, the following are recipients of reported contributions exceeding $200 from 75 AARP executives and employees during the 2008 election cycle:
Democratic Party and/or Democrats for Congress: $15,600
John Edwards: $250
Hillary Clinton: $7,350
Barack Obama: $36,556
Fred Thompson: $1,000
Republican Party: $871
Rudy Giuliani: $1,150
John McCain: $1,550
In its March/April 2003 magazine, AARP honored billionaire George Soros as one of its 50 “top innovators” in a “Fearless 50″ article. Robert Knight of Concerned Women for America reported that while the list featured a few conservatives, it was “top heavy with liberal luminaries.”
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, blasted AARP in an interview with the Hill just days ago.
“AARP is one of the most liberal organizations in Washington, D.C.,” Boehner said. “Obviously, most seniors aren’t aware of that.”
Some opponents claim AARP supports gun control. AARP declared in its 2007 policy book, “Congress should eliminate gaps in and strengthen enforcement of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and other federal gun laws.”
The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required federal background checks on purchasers of handguns.
AARP 2007 policy book promotes strengthened enforcement of federal gun laws
Also, in a Dec. 10, 2004, press release, AARP stated:
“AARP believes in the Constitutional right to bear arms. But to make the nation safer, we must do what we can to keep guns out of hands of children and criminals. AARP supported the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, which went into law in 1994 with bi-partisan support, but was allowed to expire this year.”
Immigration and migrant workers
AARP also supports entitlements for “migrant workers.” In the same Dec. 10, 2004, press release, AARP stated:
“Migrant workers are among the most poorly paid and ill-housed workers in the nation. They often do not qualify for Social Security or income assistance programs. AARP supports efforts to meet the needs, particularly of older and disabled workers, including making them aware of low income assistance programs for which they may be eligible.”
In 2004, the Arizona arm of the influential seniors group announced its opposition to Proposition 200, a measure to deny state welfare benefits to illegal aliens. The measure also required state agencies to report illegals to the federal government and voters to show U.S. identification.
In 2008, AARP International hosted a series in which three “experts” in the fields of immigration and aging addressed the topic “Immigration: Challenges, Trends and the Impact on the U.S. Labor Force.”
The first speaker, Robert Suro of the School of Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication, was introduced as an expert in the field of immigration. He discussed U.S. demographic trends.
“Immigration is increasingly becoming a function of who we import to fill holes in our labor market,” he explained.
The next speaker, Alejandro Garcia, regional representative of the AARP National Policy Council, said an estimated one in six illegal immigrants are employed in long-term care settings.
“Garcia expressed concern about the treatment and welfare of undocumented workers, which are often invisible and unacknowledged,” the AARP International executive summary stated. “In his view, we must challenge the notion that they are parasites living off of the wealth of America without contributing; these individuals provide the cheap labor and products that American society demands, including much-needed relief to the shortage of long-term care workers. Many of them pay taxes for services they are not eligible to receive. In spite of their contributions, we have been reluctant to integrate them into society. According to Garcia, this fact has been reflected in the rise in ethnicity-motivated violence against Hispanics and the proliferation of nativist-extremist groups in recent years.”
Finally, the last speaker, John Rother, AARP group executive officer of policy and strategy, advocated providing education and “taking advantage of the younger, immigrant workforce.”
The AARP International executive summary stated, “AARP has for the most part been a proponent of a universal approach to social issues and public policy, which holds that everybody, regardless of origin, should have the same access to education, opportunities, and laws protecting them from discrimination.”
In 2004, AARP partnered with the National Council of La Raza – a group that has promoted driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, amnesty programs and no immigration law enforcement by state and local police – to “educate elderly Hispanics and their families” on the Medicare prescription drug program.
Focus on the Family’s Steve Kipp published a 2-page analysis on AARP and what he considers a pro-homosexual agenda.
He notes that by 2004, AARP was openly referring to multiple homosexual activist organizations, referencing a “web exclusive” AARP article written by Randy Hecht, titled “No straight answers.”
Kipp wrote that Hecht’s article promoted gay sensitivity training sessions that essentially served as “re-education” sessions. A sidebar titled “Sites to see: Organizations and resources for older gays, lesbians” offered the five referred links on AARP’s website:
- National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
- Human Rights Campaign, or HRC (AARP also links to some of HRC’s publications and directly links both to the “marriage section” of Human Rights Campaign as well as its elections and members of Congress section)
- PFLAG, or Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
- SAGE, or Senior Action in a Gay Environment
- LGAIN, or Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network
AARP hosted a New York gay pride event in 2001 and invited SAGE, aka Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders, to host an exhibit, Kipp wrote.
AARP website banner declares, “Pride comes in all ages.”
He also reported the following:
- AARP’s Andrus Foundation provided a matching-funds grant to SAGE in 2002
- AARP featured gay pride month on its 2001 and 2002 online calendars
- The group invited homosexual “anti-homophobia” groups to its national annual meeting in Chicago in 2003
- AARP Prime Time Radio featured a segment on gay history and segments on “two daddies,” and AARP began profiling gay couples in its My Generation magazine
- In 2003, AARP openly united with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, or LCCR, and established a major “Voices of Civil Rights” multi-media campaign that included a bus tour and website collaboration. The website classifies homosexuality as a “civil rights issue.” LCCR was the most prominent signer of a March 1, 2004, open letter to Congress opposing the Federal Marriage Amendment.
Kipp wrote that AARP’s polling data reveal its differences with its constituency. According to the report, AARP members who are 70 and older are highly conservative on social issues, especially on issues like same-sex marriage.
In 2008, AARP sponsored SAGE’s National Conference on LGBT Aging, declaring that “AARP is paying attention to LGBT needs to minimize discrimination and to ensure equality as people age in America.”
Shredding the AARP membership card
According to news reports, at least 60,000 AARP members canceled their memberships from July to August of this year amid anger over the group’s position on health care. AARP said the members represented a small percentage of its total membership and that during the same time period, 400,000 people joined AARP and 1.5 million renewed their memberships.
Some members destroyed their AARP cards and switched to the American Seniors Association, the New York Times reported. The alternative organization is offering former AARP members a year of free membership if they send in their torn AARP cards.
AARP has recently announced its endorsement of the Affordable Health Care for America Act, or H.R. 3962, and the accompanying Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act, H.R. 3961.
Several WND readers have indicated that they will cancel their memberships due to AARP’s support of the health-care bill. The following are some comments received in recent days:
- The AARP hasn’t been my “voice” in a long time.
- If anyone has AARP, it’s time to find something else.
- I called AARP this morning to cancel my membership. It took several tries before I got anything but a busy signal, and then I was on hold for several minutes. As soon as I told the young man I wanted to cancel, he asked if it was because of the health-care issue. I told him it was. I wonder how many other people they lost today.
- AARP has sold out its members by endorsing a health-care plan that will only result in higher taxes, worse coverage and more government control over our lives. It’s time to draw the line and cut the cord. Hit them in the pocketbook for their disservice to members. They were supposed to have our best interests at heart – not their own. Their conflict of interest deserves to be repaid.
As WND reported, the American Family Association, or AFA, warned in August that AARP launched a “huge and costly” television ad campaign in support of the health-care plan proposed by President Obama.
A video of part of the AARP effort, which the AFA described as “scare tactics,” is here:
The group also produces shows on Retirement Living TV, a cable network that is beamed into retirement communities across the country as an entertainment channel geared toward seniors.
Now AFA has renewed its call for AARP constituents to cancel their memberships due to the group’s endorsement of the Democrats’ health “reform,” claiming the organization no longer represents the best interests of the elderly.
“AARP claims to be all about representing the interests of seniors,” AFA said in a statement, “but when it comes to health care reform, they are selling seniors down the river to line their own pockets.”
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