AARP Girding for the Big Fight?

If you were to gauge an organization’s comfort level by its lobbying expenditures, AARP would appear quite cozy.

Lobby costs for the nonprofit group have dropped, from $27.9 million in 2008 to $15.1 million in 2011. The chart below shows quarterly spending for the time period.

But trend lines can mislead.

Frederick R. Lynch, associate professor at Claremont McKenna College, suggests that the mammoth organization is socking away funds for battles on the horizon.

“AARP’s lobby activities are event-driven,” says Lynch, author of “One Nation Under AARP: The Fight Over Medicare, Social Security, and America’s Future.”

Lobby spending peaked at $36 million in 2005, with the successful effort to defeat President George W. Bush’s proposal to partially privatize Social Security. It rose again in late 2010, as AARP worked for passage of President Obama’s health care plan.

AARP’s legislative policy director, David Certner, says the numbers have shifted partly because of structural changes. The organization recently split its government affairs and public campaign activities into two units.

Some spending devoted to grassroots and advertising campaigns might have previously been included in the overall lobby expenditures reported to the federal government, Certner said.

He wouldn’t predict spending amounts for 2012-2013, except to say, “I don’t think that our lobbying activity is likely to change dramatically.”

According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, AARP ranked sixth in overall lobby expenditures from 1998 through 2011. Last year, it ranked 14th overall.

While AARP isn’t likely to outspend the top lobbyist in Washington – the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, it may well move up the list by 2013. No matter who occupies the White House, Medicare and Social Security we be under close scrutiny.

As the advocacy group for people 50 and older, AARP is the primary lobbyist for these two federal programs, Lynch notes.

In addition to its own lobbyists, the organization contracts with four outside firms: Sloane Strategies, Quinn Gillespie & Associates, Reinecke Strategic Solutions and TKB Global Strategies.

Its chief lobbyist, John C. Rother, left last year to head the National Coalition on Health Care. Rother, who had been with AARP since 1984, previously served as chief counsel for the Special Committee on Aging and as special counsel to former Sen.Jacob Javits (R-NY).

With nearly 40 million members in the age cohort most likely to vote, AARP wields enormous influence in Washington. The organization does not endorse or oppose political candidates. Nor does it have a PAC. Yet with operating revenues in 2010 of nearly $1.3 billion, its pockets are very deep.

Its agenda goes well beyond insurance, retirement and health care. Among the issues lobbied in 2011 were budget and finance, civil rights, consumer safety, taxes, telecommunications and torts. (A list of legislation lobbied by the group appears below.)

Yet Social Security continues to be a prime focus. In September, AARP’s Public Policy Institute described the program as a “key income source for older Americans.” It reported that 89 percent of people 65 and older received benefits in 2009 and more than 19 million older Americans relied on the program for most of their family income.

AARP had to fend off a barrage of member criticism last year after media reports that it was prepared to accept cutbacks in Social Security benefits. After the Wall Street Journal reported the shift, AARP CEO A. Barry Rand issued a statement saying the organization had not changed its position.

The organization also took flak for its support of the Obama health care plan.

Detractors have been especially critical of the group’s for-profit activities, which include insurance and product discounts.

“The facts show AARP no longer operates like a seniors’ advocacy organization,” Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA) complained last year. “Instead, it more closely resembles a for-profit insurance company.”

Actually, it’s a self-funding lobby giant, Lynch says.

And over the next two years, it will likely spend millions defending programs that many Republicans want to cut.

Bills lobbied by AARP in 2011:

112 H.CON.RES.34: Establishing the budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2012 and setting forth appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2013 through 2021.
112 H.CON.RES.44: Calling for an independent international investigation of the April 10, 2010, plane crash that killed President of Poland Lech Kaczynski and 95 other individuals.
112 H.J.RES.1: Proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
112 H.J.RES.44: Further Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011
112 H.J.RES.48: Additional Continuing Appropriations Amendments, 2011
112 H.J.RES.79: Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2012
112 H.R.1058: Seniors’ Tax Simplification Act of 2011
112 H.R.1121: Responsible Consumer Financial Protection Regulations Act of 2011
112 H.R.1125: Debt Free America Act
112 H.R.112: To encourage, enhance, and integrate Silver Alert plans throughout the United States, to authorize grants for the assistance of organizations to find missing adults, and for other purposes.
112 H.R.1173: Fiscal Responsibility and Retirement Security Act of 2011
112 H.R.1213: To repeal mandatory funding provided to States in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to establish American Health Benefit Exchanges.
112 H.R.1315: Consumer Financial Protection Safety and Soundness Improvement Act of 2011
112 H.R.1543: Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act of 2011
112 H.R.1599: Indian Country Economic Development Act
112 H.R.1654: Medicare Enrollment Protection Act of 2011
112 H.R.1683: State Flexibility Act
112 H.R.1776: Older Driver and Pedestrian Safety and Roadway Enhancement Act of 2011
112 H.R.1780: Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2011
112 H.R.1873: Arbitration Fairness Act of 2011
112 H.R.1: Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2011
112 H.R.2017: Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012
112 H.R.2055: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012
112 H.R.2068: Nuclear Regulatory Commission Continuation Act
112 H.R.2077: MLR Repeal Act of 2011
112 H.R.2112: Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012
112 H.R.217: Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act
112 H.R.2190: Medicare Drug Savings Act of 2011
112 H.R.2267: Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act of 2011
112 H.R.2308: SEC Regulatory Accountability Act
112 H.R.2434: Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2012
112 H.R.2501: Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011
112 H.R.2560: Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011
112 H.R.2564: Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2011
112 H.R.2576: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to modify the calculation of modified adjusted gross income for purposes of determining eligibility for certain healthcare-related programs.
112 H.R.2596: Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012
112 H.R.2605: Protect Spending Priorities Act
112 H.R.2608: Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012
112 H.R.2645: Medigap Medical Loss Ratio Improvement Act
112 H.R.2693: Budget Control Act of 2011
112 H.R.2883: Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act
112 H.R.3010: Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011
112 H.R.3035: Mobile Informational Call Act of 2011
112 H.R.3055: National Parents Corps Act of 2011
112 H.R.3070: Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012
112 H.R.3342: Affordable Medicines Utilization Act of 2011
112 H.R.3468: Counterfeit Drug Penalty Enhancement Act of 2011
112 H.R.3536: Safe Roads for America Act of 2011
112 H.R.3630: Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012
112 H.R.3671: Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012
112 H.R.539: Preserving Our Promise to Seniors Act
112 H.R.577: Elder Abuse Prevention Act
112 H.R.63: Long-Term Care Insurance Reform Act of 2011
112 H.R.672: Election Support Consolidation and Efficiency Act
112 H.R.677: Lifetime Income Disclosure Act
112 H.R.830: FHA Refinance Program Termination Act
112 H.R.978: To amend title II of the Social Security Act to preclude use of the social security account number on Government-issued identification cards issued in connection with Medicare, Medicaid, and SCHIP benefits and for other purposes.
112 S.1006: Seniors’ Tax Simplification Act of 2011
112 S.1019: Secondary School Reentry Act of 2011
112 S.1056: Safe and Complete Streets Act of 2011
112 S.1206: Medicare Drug Savings Act of 2011
112 S.1251: Medicare and Medicaid FAST Act
112 S.1256: Department of Energy National Security Act of 2012
112 S.1263: National Silver Alert Act of 2011
112 S.1275: Social Security Number Protection Act of 2011
112 S.1416: Medigap Medical Loss Ratio Improvement Act of 2011
112 S.1471: Fair Employment Opportunity Act of 2011
112 S.1542: Child and Family Services Improvement and Innovation Act
112 S.1557: Automatic IRA Act of 2011
112 S.1558: Keeping Our Social Security Promises Act
112 S.1572: Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012
112 S.1573: Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act, 2012
112 S.1596: Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012
112 S.1599: Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2012
112 S.159: Confidence in Long-Term Care Insurance Act of 2011
112 S.1606: Regulatory Accountability Act of 2011
112 S.1615: Financial Regulatory Responsibility Act of 2011
112 S.163: Full Faith and Credit Act
112 S.1750: Home Care Consumer Bill of Rights Act
112 S.1876: Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act
112 S.1886: Counterfeit Drug Penalty Enhancement Act of 2011
112 S.1917: Middle Class Tax Cut Act of 2011
112 S.1931: Temporary Tax Holiday and Government Reduction Act
112 S.1942: Senior Transportation and Mobility Improvement Act of 2011
112 S.227: Home Health Care Planning Improvement Act of 2011
112 S.245: CAP Act of 2011
112 S.267: Lifetime Income Disclosure Act
112 S.27: Preserve Access to Affordable Generics Act
112 S.319: Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act of 2011
112 S.365: Budget Control Act of 2011
112 S.374: Medicare Mental Health Inpatient Equity Act
112 S.462: Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2011
112 S.464: End Abuse in Later Life Act of 2011
112 S.465: Senior Financial Empowerment Act of 2011
112 S.627: Budget Control Act of 2011
112 S.720: Repeal the CLASS Entitlement Act
112 S.746: Dodd-Frank Repeal Act of 2011
112 S.782: Economic Development Revitalization Act of 2011
112 S.818: Improving Access to Medicare Coverage Act of 2011
112 S.987: Arbitration Fairness Act of 2011
112 S.CON.RES.18: A concurrent resolution setting forth the President’s budget request for the United States Government for fiscal year 2012, and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2013 through 2021.
112 S.CON.RES.20: A concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2012 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2013 through 2016.
112 S.CON.RES.21: A concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget for the United States Government for fiscal year 2012 and setting forth the appropriate budgetary levels for fiscal years 2013 through 2021.
112 S.J.RES.4: A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the UnitedStates which requires (except during time of war and subject to suspension by Congress) that the total amount of money expended by the United States during any fiscal year not exceed the amount of certain revenue received by the United States during such fiscal year and not to exceed 20 per cent of the gross national product of the United States during the previous calendar year.

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  1. […] its spending is so high that its year-to-year shifts can obscure underlying patterns. (See our February post on the organization’s […]

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