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Alzheimer’s Group Intensifies Grass-Roots Strategy

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Rep. Mike Coffman has been urged to push for increased federal funding for Alzheimer’s research by volunteer lobbyists in his home state of Colorado.

Just about everybody, it seems, wants Mattye Pollard-Cole’s vote.

President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney have circulated through her home state of Colorado multiple times, and her congressional district in suburban Denver is the scene of a tossup race attracting the attention and dollars of national groups.

But Pollard-Cole has a pitch of her own for those seeking public office. She wants more federal funding for research into Alzheimer’s disease, which claimed her husband even before his death last year, a month after his 62nd birthday. And when the elections are over, she will continue to press her cause with elected officials.

“It’s become a real passion for me,” she said.

At a time when slashing government budgets is all the rage, it might seem an impossible feat to get more money out of Washington, D.C.

But that’s why Pollard-Cole is part of a burgeoning network of volunteer lobbyists mobilized by the Alzheimer’s Association. The group is intensifying its grass-roots effort, tapping voters in battleground states to show up at campaign events to increase the odds that research spending will loom large on the national agenda. At the same time, the association is using polling and other political tools to raise the public policy profile of the disease.

It’s a well-worn path for corporate and nonprofit interests alike.

“We are working to inject this into the political conversation,” said Robert Egge, vice president of public policy for the Alzheimer’s Association. “This is going to be a disease that Americans are going to be talking about in a political context.”

One of the group’s recent bipartisan polls by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Public Opinion Strategies found that more than 1 in 3 likely voters have a loved one with Alzheimer’s and about 1 in 5 are more likely to vote for someone committed to making research on the condition a national priority.

Volunteers such as Pollard-Cole and one of her counterparts in Iowa, April Holden, have taken on the association’s statistics-based message for fiscally minded members of Congress: Pay me now or pay me later.

“We can either keep ignoring it with no treatment and no cure, and the majority of those costs will be paid by Medicaid and Medicare,” Holden said. “Or we can start funding research to find a cure.”

Because of the limited pot of federal research dollars administered by the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, there is inevitable competition among patient advocates for limited resources.  

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