AARP will drop its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has a long history of peddling bills that harm the interests of retirees and other Americans.
The statement comes just days after the Center for Media and Democracy reported that AARP had joined ALEC and was a sponsor of ALEC’s 2016 Annual Conference. AARP joins more than 120 private sector members that have publicly cut ties with ALEC since CMD launched the ALEC Exposed investigation in 2011.
ALEC Has Worked Against AARP Members’ Health and Security
While AARP has fought hard to preserve Social Security and extend health care access such as Medicare benefits to seniors, ALEC has promoted numerous “model” bills that would undermine important protections for retirees’ health and economic security.
One ALEC “solution” to possible future Social Security shortfalls was to divert tax revenue from the insurance program into private accounts.
ALEC has promoted multiple bills that would replace defined benefit pension plans with riskier retirement plans.
And one of ALEC’s top priorities in recent years has been a “Balanced Budget” amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Handcuffing the budget would threaten the federal government’s fiscal stability and put Social Security, Medicare, and other cornerstone safety net programs at risk.
AARP members were not happy to learn that their dues were helping to fund an organization with a history of working against their interests. Many quickly began demanding to know what AARP was up to.
ALEC National Chair: AARP Is “Being Intimidated” (By Its Own Members Asking about ALEC)
The outcry by AARP members was not well-received at ALEC.
The corporate bill mill has struggled to retain corporate sponsors in the years after its ties to “Stand Your Ground” gun bills were revealed. More recently, its role in spreading disinformation about climate change science has turned away former corporate members like Google and Ford.
Google Chair Eric Schmidt told NPR in 2014 that ALEC was “literally lying” about climate change, and that Google’s membership “was some sort of mistake.”
ALEC and its allies have tried to spin demands for accountability on climate and transparency about its lobbying efforts as “intimidation” of their free speech.
Following the same playbook, ALEC’s National Chair, Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, told attendees at a breakfast meeting on Friday, August 29 that “one of our very good sponsors, AARP” was “being intimidated.”
According to notes, Vukmir said, “They are under siege right now … And I need every one of you to make sure you call your AARP representatives back in your states.”
She told ALEC legislators “our principles are being challenged,” and said that they needed to tell AARP they appreciate its sponsorship of ALEC and “ask them to remain strong.”
The AARP members conducting the “siege” are an estimated 38 million Americans over the age of 50, about half of whom are retired, and 70 percent of whom are grandparents.
In ALEC’s world, an organization responding to its own members’ concerns, rather than ALEC’s demands, is “being intimidated.”
A coalition of organizations including AFSCME, CMD, Social Security Works, and others had planned to circulate a letter today calling on AARP to withdraw its support for ALEC. CMD had also organized a petition.
But it was pressure from its own members that prompted AARP to react quickly and cut ties with ALEC.
AARP Responds to Members, Not ALEC Shakedown
On August 5, AARP announced that it would not renew its membership in ALEC as a result of members’ concerns:
“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.”
The lingering question for many is why the organization joined ALEC in the first place, given the chasm between the two groups’ policy views.
A statement made last week to the L.A. Times hints that ALEC’s pay-to-play model may be something closer to a shakedown for anyone wanting to meet public officials who are ALEC members.
AARP said that it made a payment to ALEC to gain “an opportunity to engage with state legislators… [G]iven that Republicans control one or more chambers in 39 of the nation’s 50 state legislatures, we believe having a seat at the table at the ALEC annual meeting was necessary to our mission of representing the interests and needs of people 50-plus and their families.”
If even the powerful AARP, which represents tens of millions of Americans and has offices and registered lobbyists in most states, has to pay dues to ALEC in order to meet with Republican state lawmakers, then perhaps Sen. Vukmir’s concern about “intimidation” was partly right.
The success of AARP’s members shows that ordinary Americans still have the power to fight ALEC’s intimidation game.