For decades now, AARP, which once stood for the American Association of Retired Persons and has been subsequently rebranded as just a set of initials that stand for nothing, has been one of the most influential lobby groups in Washington, D.C. Though AARP was supposed to represent a large and politically diverse cross-section of older Americans, its transformation into an overtly partisan Democrat organization is hard to deny.
Recently, AARP lobbied heavily for the Biden administration’s disastrous and ironically named “Inflation Reduction Act.” AARP’s biggest congressional critic, Sen. Rand Paul, recently noted that of AARP’s 94 congressional lobbying events during debate over the Inflation Reduction Act, only one was held in support of a Republican officeholder. The rest were for Democrats.
As if AARP’s partisan turn weren’t bad enough, the organization has also become a complete sellout. Over half of AARP’s $2 billion in annual revenue no longer comes from dues, but instead comes from corporate royalties, including lucrative arrangements selling insurance to members.
“UnitedHealth pays AARP a significant portion of every monthly premium received from its AARP-branded Medicare plans, amounting to approximately $800 million per year. … This reveals a growing tendency for AARP to prioritize its association with UnitedHealth over the interests of senior citizens,” notes Paul.
If there is a silver lining to the corruption of the AARP, it’s that it is no longer the only interest group representing politically influential seniors. In 2007, Dan Weber founded the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC). Though Weber had himself been a member of the AARP, he was frustrated with the politically liberal direction of the organization, which was far more radical than most members realized. Though initially the organization existed only in Florida and New York, in 2009 AMAC went national and began recruiting members as a conservative alternative to AARP.
AMAC’s national membership appeal was boosted by a couple of major missteps by AARP in 2009. That same year, AARP gave Harry Belafonte a humanitarian award despite the fact that Belafonte was last in the news for saying President George W. Bush was the “greatest terrorist in the world” while speaking out in support of socialist Hugo Chavez’s murderous regime in Venezuela. (A few years later, Belafonte, who does not have a firm grasp on the obvious, would regret that Chavez had used his support as “a cynical ploy to embarrass the United States.”)
Later in 2009, AARP ignored fierce opposition from seniors and publicly came out in support of passing the Obamacare legislation, which raided $700 billion from Medicare to pay for failed health care reform. For many seniors, opposing AARP started to look like something more important than expressing their political preferences — AARP was failing at its core mission of preserving Medicare and the other benefits seniors depend on.
AMAC’s success since then has been remarkable. Sixteen years later, AMAC is thriving under the leadership of Weber’s daughter, Rebecca Weber. (Dan Weber died in 2020.) Today, AMAC has a dues-paying membership of 2.2 million members and growing. While that’s still dwarfed by AARP’s claimed membership of 38 million people, about the only other American organization that exceeds that is the Roman Catholic Church. Still, as an advocacy group that has millions of dues-paying members, that puts AMAC in elite company in terms of political influence. For comparison, the National Rifle Association claims just over 4 million dues-paying members.
AMAC has also attracted millions of members by taking a very different approach than AARP: It doesn’t hide its politics and does its best to respond to the priorities of its members.
“We take our marching orders from our membership, and we publish and post right on the home page of our site, any calls to action, who we are, what we do, and what we stand for. We’re looking to advance policies that are going to, of course, empower people and help our members live long lives, keep more of their hard earned money in their pocket,” says Rebecca Weber. “At the core, we believe in individual freedoms, we believe in smaller government. We believe that a lot of work needs to be done to defend our constitutional freedoms. And those types of statements I’m making here, it really comes from our … membership, we’re regularly engaged with them and polling them.”
By contrast, Weber notes that “AARP is either ignoring the voice of their of their AARP membership, or just simply not asking [what they want].” Saying that AARP doesn’t care about the political priorities of its membership isn’t in any way an exaggeration, either. Recent ads by AARP began by saying, “I may not always agree with AARP but” before going on to make a pitch about the organization’s effectiveness at fighting cuts to Social Security. It’s a remarkably arrogant concession — essentially AARP is saying that if you want to preserve Social Security you also have to support the rest of its liberal agenda.
AMAC, on the other hand, is upfront about using the clout of its members to support explicitly conservative priorities, and it’s flexing real organizing capabilities to do it. AMAC’s political arm, AMAC Action, coordinates with AMAC members to help push conservative legislation.
“In just the first half of 2023, AMAC Action advocates, of which there are over 350,000, sent some 644,000 messages to members of Congress, state legislatures, corporate executives, the White House, and those efforts helped do several things,” observes Weber.
AMAC Action helped push legislation for social conservatives this year, notably the Protection of Women and Girls In Sports Act as well as the pro-life Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, both of which passed in the House of Representatives before being stymied by the Democrat control of the Senate. At the state level, it’s been even more successful. AMAC Action supported successful voter-integrity legislation in North Carolina, which contains provisions to ban the private funding of elections and remove noncitizens from voter rolls. AMAC Action also played a crucial role in stopping ranked-choice voting schemes for presidential primaries in four states: Illinois, Utah, North Dakota, and Montana.
“We’ve been very much focused on the election integrity, restoring constitutional freedoms, protecting parental rights, insurance, Postal Service, Social Security solvency, finding ways to deliver better and lower cost health care, and of course, protecting every human life from conception to natural death,” says Weber. “Those initiatives were priorities. We got those priorities right from our membership, and we’re extremely engaged with them.”
And despite being a conservative organization, Weber notes that many parts of AMAC’s legislative agenda do entail reaching across the political aisle. “The left [is] just going so far and [we’re working with] anybody who looks at common sense solutions to face some of the issues that we’re dealing with, and we are very proud to call ourselves bipartisan,” she says.
AMAC isn’t all politics, either. Like AARP, AMAC offers dozens of member benefits that include everything from life insurance to cell phone discounts. However, Weber says it makes efforts to separate business partnerships from the advocacy of the organization, and important member services such as helping members with their Social Security and Medicare plans are free of corporate influence.
“We offer Medicare advisory services, where we don’t sell anything, we’re really providing people with information as they age into Medicare,” says Weber. “If there are 15 plans in your area, we tell you about the 15 plans in your area.” With a single insurance company providing 40 percent of AARP’s annual revenue, it’s much harder to argue it is always acting in its members’ best interests, to say nothing of the political disconnect with AARP members. “When I look at the polls and I see how people are feeling in this country, I think AMAC to be doing a heck of a lot more to support the vision and the dreams of their membership,” Weber notes.
The good news is that AARP’s failings represent opportunities that, even 16 years in, AMAC is just beginning to capitalize on. “The advocacy work really has resulted in significant victories, and I do think that they’ve been underreported,” says Weber.