AARP, the retirees organization, responded Thursday to a torrent of protests from members and advocacy groups by announcing that it would drop its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing organization known as ALEC.
In a notice posted on AARP's Facebook page, AARP told members, "After hearing from many of you, we've decided not to renew our membership to ALEC. 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."
We reported the AARP/ALEC connection here, following its disclosure by the Center for Media and Democracy, which has been birddogging ALEC for years. Initially, the relationship seemed to amount to a contribution from AARP to help sponsor ALEC's annual meeting, held in Indianapolis at the end of July. The new statement, however, indicates that AARP had gone further by actually becoming a member.
As we observed, ALEC promotes policies sharply at odds with the interests of seniors and retirees, who are AARP's core constituency. "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,'" we wrote. "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."
In a letter sent Thursday to AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, the CMD, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, and several other senior advocacy groups urged AARP to cease "endorsing an organization that brings corporate lobbyists and elected officials from around the country together to write anti-senior, anti-family legislation in a process that locks out the public and subverts our democratic process."
AARP's argument that it had partnered with ALEC as a way to engage with conservative state legislators "and advance our members' priorities from a position of strength at ALEC's annual meeting" drew particular scorn from AARP's critics. After all, scores of major corporations with equivalent interests in interfacing with conservative state legislators have abandoned the organization because of its militant opposition to climate change legislation and other policies.
AARP in its statement defended its outreach to lawmakers across the political spectrum. "We meet with legislators from both sides of the aisle in order to do our job: fighting to improve the lives of people 50+," it said. "We will continue to explore ways to serve our diverse membership and fulfill our responsibility to engage with all legislators on the issues important to older Americans and their families." As AARP may now understand, some of this outreach is better done at arm's length.
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