A few weeks ago, just prior to a House vote on the issue, the
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) suddenly announced
it was launching a massive grassroots campaign to oppose Medicare
reform proposals in Congress. Media reports indicated that AARP,
after months of soft-pedaling on the issue, would be establishing
"campaign-style" field offices in "key presidential states,"
including New Hampshire and Iowa.
The House approved its Medicare reform package, and now the
Senate must come up with its own reform plan. But every American
taxpayer should note the significance of AARP's late entry into the
fray. This last minute activist turn by the nation's largest senior
citizens' lobby was motivated by fear: Only six days before AARP's
announcement, liberals in Congress had publicly browbeat the group
into mounting a more offensive strategy opposing Medicare
The message was clear: We liberals have siphoned off huge
portions of the taxpayers' money to help subsidize your lobbying
activity for years -- now it's payback time.
Groups like AARP that receive taxpayer funding even though they
conduct lobbying activities (that means they use your money whether
you agree with their cause or not) are now finding themselves
captive to the politicians who give them your money. They're
responding to veiled threats that their funding could be withdrawn
if they don't dance to a particular political tune. Taxpayer
funding of lobbying groups would be sharply curtailed under an
amendment sponsored by Rep. Earnest Istook, R-Okla., and Congress
is expected to take final action in the next few weeks. If it fails
passage, political arm-twisting over issues like Medicare will
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported on Sept. 28, that House
Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., "suggested this week that
the AARP was making a mistake in not already mobilizing its 33
million members against Republican plans to slow Medicare
spending." Gephardt's Senate counterpart, Tom Daschle, D-S.D.,
bemoaned that "it has been somewhat surprising that they've waited
this long" to voice opposition.
Now, to you and me, those don't sound like doomsday
proclamations. But in the nomenclature of official Washington they
went off like cannon shots. In just six days, AARP announced the
opening of anti-reform campaign offices nationwide, to disseminate
the message that proposed changes in Medicare were "draconian." The
group's Iowa spokesman -- apparently unconcerned that the group's
grassroots organizing is supposed to be independent -- reminded
reformers in Congress that AARP members compose 10 percent of that
state's population and thus represent a major voting bloc.
Of course the reason congressional liberals can browbeat this
powerful special interest into action is because AARP is a major
beneficiary of taxpayer financing. In fact, the $86 million AARP
acknowledged receiving in federal funding in 1993 through various
grant programs represented approximately one-quarter of its annual
expenditures. AARP's sources of federal funding range from programs
for the elderly to millions of dollars annually to provide clerical
support for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
From July 1993 to June 1994, AARP's largest single source of
taxpayer funding was the Department of Labor/Employment Training
Administration's "Senior Community Service Employment Program."
This one program provides about $49 million per year to AARP's bank
account. More than $300 million of the $400 million appropriated
for Program Year 1994 went to 9 seniors' organizations and the
Forest Service, with the remainder going to the states.
AARP was also a major beneficiary of the EPA's "Senior
Environmental Employment Program." The annual appropriation is $45
million. With that money, approximately 265 grants are made. The
AARP receives approximately $20 million from this program. It
provides support to almost every regional office of the EPA, as
well as most divisions within the Washington headquarters. This
particular program permits AARP to benefit from the inflow of funds
and the EPA to benefit from low-cost labor to promote its
The group also received approximately $4.6 million per year
under the Treasury Department/Internal Revenue Service's "Tax
Counseling for the Elderly Program." This represents the lion's
share of the grant's annual appropriation. Ironically, AARP could
have used some of its own tax counseling, since they were recently
forced to settle with the IRS for tens of millions of dollars in
The browbeating of AARP into active opposition to Medicare
reform symbolizes the arrogance and corruption created by 40 years
of taxpayer-funded political patronage. Nobody asked the taxpayers
whether they favored the causes AARP or literally hundreds of other
groups espouse in their lobbying efforts. Yet, over the decades,
Congress has handed them billions in taxpayer funding in
It's time for this "welfare for lobbyists" -- and the arm
twisting it encourages -- to end.
Note: Marshall Wittmann and Charles P. Griffin are former
director and former deputy director, respectively, of the
Government Integrity Project at The Heritage Foundation,
ED102595: Browbeating AARP
Read More >>
Charles P. Griffin
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