Taking on one of the nation’s most formidable lobbying groups, a senior Republican senator charged Tuesday that the American Association of Retired Persons had misrepresented its members’ views, violated federal tax law and abused its mailing privileges.
The senator, Alan K. Simpson of Wyoming, held what he said would be the first in a series of hearings to investigate the group, which has 33 million members and has for years been an influential voice in national debates on Social Security, Medicare and health policy in general.
Simpson, the chairman of the Finance Subcommittee on Social Security and Family Policy, asserted Tuesday that the association did not speak for its members.
“AARP has drifted from its stated mission of representing senior citizens,” he said. “It has also drifted considerably from any reasonable description of a nonprofit organization that should enjoy a tax exemption and unlimited lobbying privileges.”
He asserted that the leadership of the association “imposes a policy agenda on an unwilling membership.” For example, he said, the members support a constitutional amendment to balance the federal budget, but the leaders lobbied against it.
Simpson said, “This is not about ideology,” and he denied he was trying to silence the organization. But he was clearly trying to put it on the defensive as Congress prepares for epic political battles over Medicare and the federal budget.
Unlike the association, and unlike many of his Republican colleagues, Simpson maintains that Congress should consider changes in Social Security to help balance the budget and to improve the financial condition of the retirement program.
The association, which normally jumps at any opportunity to testify at a congressional hearing, chose not to do so Tuesday, saying its officers had to attend a longplanned board meeting in Portland. They will have a chance to answer Simpson’s charges at a hearing June 20.