By Bill Wilson — Once called the American Association of Retired Persons, the AARP is the largest grassroots organization nationwide with over 38 million members. Presumably representing Americans of all political stripes, the organization states that it “helps people 50 and over improve the quality of their lives.”
To that end, the organization provides Medicare supplemental insurance, member travel discounts, pharmaceutical services, legal assistance, and long-term care insurance.
At the same time, the organization is incredibly politically active. In the past two elections, eight members of its 22-member board of directors have given significant contributions to presidential candidates, congressional candidates, and other political action committees and organizations, according to Federal Election Commission records.
But there’s a catch. Since 2007, AARP board members have given almost exclusively to Democrats, with more than 97 percent of donations going to Democrat candidates and left-leaning causes, totaling over $22,000. None was given to Republican candidates during that time.
In fact, two board members, Jeannine English and Ronald Daly, both maxed out with $4,600 donations to Barack Obama. Diane Pratt gave Obama $2,000 (she also gave $1,000 to Hillary Clinton).
To be fair, board member Jacob Lozada gave $2,000 of donations to the Republican National Committee in the early 2000’s. And according to followthemoney.org, AARP gave donations totaling tens of thousands of dollars to Republican state committees in 2007 and 2008.
While there is no inherent corruption in making political donations, what the donations made by AARP’s policy-making board do reveal are at least the ideological bent many of its board members. It is therefore fair to ask if those ideological preferences have affected the policies AARP supports.
Since Obama took office AARP has certainly been a friend of his. It supported his signature health care law despite gutting Medicare by $500 billion over ten years to help pay for Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid and taxpayer-funded health care to millions of Americans currently on private insurance or uninsured.
It also did not say a word when for the past two years, Obama’s misguided payroll tax holiday cost the Social Security trust fund more than $230 billion.
Of course, it is not immune to supporting big government when it’s a Republican doing it. It was instrumental in 2003 in urging Congress to pass George W. Bush’s Medicare Part D — i.e. the prescription drug benefit — that many consider one of the primary reasons the program is teetering towards bankruptcy now.
Were any those policies in the long-term interests of AARP’s members? Since then, the Social Security and Medicare trustees report the programs’ trust funds will be exhausted by 2033 and 2024, respectively. After that, beneficiaries will only receive a fraction of benefits they were promised.
AARP’s silence on both Obama and Bush’s wasteful policies sending these entitlement programs to insolvency contrasts sharply with its full-throated opposition to Bush’s proposal to at least salvage the Social Security program by allowing workers to invest their payroll taxes into private accounts, rather than letting the government squander them.
So, AARP fails to oppose initiatives that appear to be the most costly to these programs, and is dead set against proposals that might set the programs on a sustainable path. Does that make sense? Is its intransigence to entitlement reforms that allow Americans to control their own retirements in the best long-term interests of its current and future members?
Probably not. But maybe they don’t care. Or perhaps they just believe that hiking taxes on younger Americans will plug the holes in these programs, no matter what burden they impose on their economic well-being.
They certainly seem interested in wielding power. AARP board member Fernando Torres-Gil was nominated by Obama on May 9 to sit on the National Council on Disability. Hubert Humphrey left the AARP board to serve in the Obama Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Older Americans in Oct. 2011.
All of which — the personal campaign donations to Obama, AARP’s position on issues over the years, and its board’s presidential appointments — gives the appearance of a rather cozy relationship with the current administration. If not left-wing, then, AARP is at least in favor a big government, top-down approach to senior health and retirement issues.
But is that what its members really want? Surely, in addition to comfortable retirements, AARP’s paying members want a sustainable future for their children and grandchildren, too. Those two goals should not be mutually exclusive, but right now, that’s the only choice the organization appears to be offering.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government. You can follow Bill on Twitter at @BillWilsonALG.