Progressives dedicated to protecting safety nets for seniors have pressured AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired People, to drop its dues-paying membership at ALEC, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, whose work includes drafting and promoting bills that would undermine and privatize Social Security and Medicare.
“After hearing from many of you, we’ve decided not to renew our membership to ALEC,” said a post on AARP’s Facebook page Friday. “We would never work against the interests of older Americans and our engagement with ALEC was NOT an endorsement of the organization’s policies, but an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members’ priorities.”
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“AARP is and always has been non-partisan,” the statement continued. “We meet with legislators from both sides of the aisle in order to do our job: fighting to improve the lives of people 50+. We will continue to explore ways to serve our diverse membership and fulfill our responsibility.”
The discovery that AARP had become an ALEC member and the ensuing grassroots campaign to pressure it to step away took less than a week.
“You and your friends joined tens of thousands of Americans signing petitions, making calls, sending emails, or sharing reports on social media asking for AARP to stop funding ALEC,” the Center for Media and Democracy, a Wisconsin-based investigative reporting and advocacy group that has spent years critically covering ALEC, wrote in an e-mail Friday. “The corporate bill mill had urged its members to call AARP and tell them to ‘remain strong.'”
The retirement security coalition’s members include groups like Social Security Works, which seeks to expand that program’s benefits and fortify its funding, as well as journalists who have covered senior economic issues for many years, such as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik.
CMD was first to report that AARP was listed as a sponsor for ALEC’s annual meeting, which was held in Indianapolis last weekend. That led CMD and others to investigate their new relationship. As CMD has noted, ALEC is a “pay to play” organization, where dues-paying members get to sit with lobbyists and pro-corporate state and federal lawmakers to write model legislation which they then sponsor and carry through in their state legislatures and Congress.
When it comes to retirement security, ALEC has taken positions that can only be described as hostile to AARP members. As Hiltzik wrote, “ALEC has pushed for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which has saved Medicare enrollees millions of dollars by closing the Medicare drug benefit ‘donut hole’…It has opposed Medicaid expansion under Obamacare. It has targeted public pensions, pushing to cap benefits and shift workers toward defined contribution plans, which layer more market risk on individual workers’ shoulders.”
On Thursday, CMD’s ALEC Exposed project, Social Security Works, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, AFSCME Retirees and other groups wrote a strong letter to AARP’s CEO and senior legislative staff, urging it to sever ties with ALEC.
“We are calling on AARP to withdraw all support for ALEC, a group that has consistently promoted policies that hurt seniors,” the coalition wrote. “By partnering with ALEC, you have allowed it to use the powerful AARP brand to lend credibility to legislation harmful to seniors that is introduced in statehouses across the country. ALEC has been at the forefront of protecting drug companies and their ability to charge unreasonable prices, has been a strong advocate against the Affordable Care Act and has opposed Medicaid expansion, forcing lower-income retirees to make terrible choices between paying medical bills and buying groceries. ALEC pushed voter ID laws that make it harder, not easier for seniors and people of color to vote. ALEC also blocks action on climate change, causing irreparable harm to the world we will leave our children and grandchildren.”
That very day, AARP apparently decided not to renew its membership with ALEC. That decision follows many other large corporations leaving ALEC in recent years because it is a climate change denier.
“After a huge uproar from its members, we are very pleased that AARP is doing the right thing and cutting all ties with the anti-senior ALEC,” said Linda Benesch, Social Security Works’ communications director.