INVESTIGATION CALLS INTO QUESTION SENIOR GROUP’S NON-PROFIT STATUS
By Steven Tavares
A large segment of Rep. Pete Stark’s constituency is seniors with a hearing aid tuned to the discussion of health care reform. As one of the most influential members of congress regarding the issue it is no surprise he called an investigation by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Health Committee into the non-profit status of AARP, a “political witch hunt.”
Rep. Wally Herger, who took control of the sub-committee from Stark after Republicans gained the majority in the House, issued a report last week raising questions over AARP’s use of funds to back provisions of the new health care reform act. Herger questioned whether the influential group is using its non-profit tax exemption to benefit its own bottom line.
“We could ask questions about whether there is a broader problem with the tax code in this area,” Stark said Friday on the House floor. “But, the Republicans do not want to ask those questions today. Why? That’s easy. Those groups opposed the Affordable Care Act and AARP supported it. This is nothing more than a political witch hunt to punish an organization that spoke out in favor of health reform.”
Stark also said he too has raised question about AARP in the past, but said their activism is no different than other political non-profit groups. He noted various organizations back by the Tea Party and Karl Rove as examples. AARP’s seal of approval is a very lucrative marketing apparatus for attracting seniors to purchase its branded goods.
There is more than a whiff of hypocrisy over the Republican investigation of AARP, according to Stark. In 2003, the GOP lauded the AARP for its support of the Medicare prescription drug bill backed by President Bush. “None of them were questioning the motives of AARP then,” Stark said.
In a op-ed piece,Herger denied his committee is using AARP to discredit the group so influential in issues regarding its member, most of whom are 50 years and older. “Contrary to the accusations of some people, this is not a political exercise,” said Herger. “To the contrary, we have an obligation to ensure that the American people, and specifically America’s seniors, know and understand the real AARP so they can decide if their interests are being represented.”