Scaring the Elderly

James Roosevelt has defended before Congress his role in raising money from aged Americans ostensibly to fight attacks on Medicare and Social Security, testifying that "our cause is a good one, our methods are honest." The evidence does not support his claim.

In collaboration with a controversial Orange County political marketing firm--B.F.C. Direct Marketing, formerly Butcher-Forde--Roosevelt has used direct-mail advertising to construct a massive organization, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, raising almost $30 million in contributions from about 2.8 million senior citizens. The contributors were responding to bald scare tactics, having been told by Roosevelt that "your Medicare protection is in jeopardy right now."

Bipartisan congressional rage is hardly surprising. Medicare is not in jeopardy. Roosevelt made his fund appeal in the name of his father, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, in our judgment, could only have been ashamed by such tactics. And, if benefits for older Americans were indeed in jeopardy, the organization that Roosevelt heads has done nothing, by Roosevelt's own admission, about any legislation.

Roosevelt himself, who is ill, seems to be benefiting but modestly--a salary of $60,000 a year, perhaps other contributions to expenses. The salaries of his staff in Washington have not been made public. The record shows that most of the money goes for postage and products of the direct-mail operatives.

Congress has little recourse but to warn the unsuspecting elders that there are better ways to spend $10. Roosevelt & Co. have their First Amendment rights like everybody else. But Congress has been wise in focusing attention on this shameless exploitation of people, many of whom have little cash to spare.

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