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AARP Is Next on GOP Target List

Tom Williams/Roll Call
(From left) Republican Reps. Charles Boustany, Dave Reichert and Wally Herger asked the IRS on Wednesday to investigate AARP’s tax-exempt status.

Republicans have launched an assault on AARP, which joins a growing list of groups supportive of the Democrats’ agenda that are being targeted by conservatives.

House Republicans on the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday released a report that accuses the influential senior citizens organization of having a conflict of interest because it will financially benefit from the health care overhaul that the group heavily lobbied for last year. AARP collects royalties from endorsing health insurance policies and other products.

The report, which also notes the generous salary and travel benefits of AARP executives, questions the tax-exempt status of the organization; the Members are forwarding the report to the IRS for review.

“This is about whether this entity is misrepresenting itself to seniors,” said Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Oversight. He was joined by Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) at a Capitol press conference to discuss the findings of the 18-month investigation. The Ways and Means panel will hold an oversight hearing Friday on AARP’s organizational structure and finances.

A GOP lobbyist suggested that the report is part of a pattern of House Republicans going after groups that worked against them on key legislation when they were out of power.

“There is certainly a sense of getting back at some of those groups that supported” health care reform, said Chris Lamond, a Republican lobbyist with Thorn Run Partners. “It is a little bit like, ‘We are in charge of the House side, we are going to hold their feet to the fire.’”

AARP officials disputed the Republicans’ contention that AARP’s policy decisions are driven by business interests.

“We are not an insurance company,” President Lee Hammond said. He noted that the 37-million-member group has opposed legislation supported by the insurance industry. Hammond also said the group had been in regular discussions with the IRS, which had not expressed any problem with the group’s tax-exempt status.

Drew Nannis, an AARP spokesman, said endorsing insurance products “meets an unmet need for our members.”

Lamond said he did not see a “master overall strategy” but added that the GOP majority wanted to signal to groups such as AARP that unlike last session, they have to pay attention to Republican concerns.

“The Republicans are playing political hardball — from state capitals to Washington,” said Thomas Mann, a political scholar at the Brookings Institution. “They are looking to weaken Democratic-leaning groups any way they can.”

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