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Republican governors around the country, including in Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, have sought to curb collective bargaining rights and reduce dues-collecting abilities of public employee unions. In Washington, D.C., the GOP-controlled House voted to eliminate funding for entities perceived as liberal allies, such as Planned Parenthood and NPR.
In 2009, Republicans were successful in prodding Congress to deny federal funding to the housing and anti-poverty lobbying group the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now after the release of a hidden-camera video by conservative activists who, posing as a prostitute and pimp, received housing and tax advice from ACORN workers.
Ron Pollack, the executive director of Families USA, a liberal health care advocacy group, interpreted the offensive against AARP as an effort to stifle groups that continue to back the implementation of health care reform.
“Perhaps they selected AARP under the assumption that if you can intimidate such as large organization, it will have a similar impact on smaller organizations,” Pollack said. He also speculated that by criticizing AARP, Republican leaders may be trying to appease their more conservative Members who may be frustrated that the new health care law has not been repealed.
Republican lawmakers said they are not targeting AARP to silence the supporters of the health care overhaul.
“This has nothing to do with trying to politicize the health care bill,” Reichert said. The lawmaker, who noted that his previous job was in law enforcement, said he was trying to ferret out what he suspected were questionable activities by the seniors group.
AARP has been one of the most formidable lobbying forces in Washington, with a substantial budget and the ability to activate a nationwide grass-roots network.
Last year, the group ranked among the top 10 lobbying spenders, shelling out more than $22 million.
In the fourth quarter alone, the group filed with Congress a 51-page lobbying report that included prodding lawmakers on issues including health care, financial reform, housing for the elderly and Social Security.
The group has also been one of the most powerful defenders of Social Security, the entitlement program that some Republicans are vowing to tackle in their bid to lower the deficit.
AARP was instrumental in killing President George W. Bush’s proposal to create private retirement accounts as part of Social Security reform.
By discrediting the seniors group, Republicans might be able to diffuse some of the opposition to an overhaul of the entitlement program.
But Jim Martin, the founder of 60 Plus Association, a conservative seniors organization, said he doubted the GOP assault would have much effect on AARP, which has survived criticism in the past.
“They are a behemoth,” he said. “It’s a one-day or two-day story. Then AARP goes on its merry way.”