The era of transparency has been taking some tricky twists and turns lately, and not all of the focus has been on the federal government. Unions, public broadcasting and others have come under scrutiny. The next subject of investigation, if certain Republicans have their way at least, will be AARP.
House Republican tax-writers want the IRS to investigate whether AARP should lose its tax-exempt status.
In a letter sent to IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman Friday, Reps. Wally Herger (R-Calif.), Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) and Charles Boustany (R-La.) say a recent congressional probe “gave rise to a number of serious concerns regarding AARP’s organizational structure and activities, and it raised questions about whether AARP continues to qualify as a tax-exempt organization under Internal Revenue Service Code (IRC) 501(c)4.”
A 40-page report recently released by the trio of lawmakers accuses AARP of refusing to provide information about its practices.
We can either dance around what we’re supposed to say when politicians get up to activities such as this or we can refuse to pull any punches and just tell it like it is. On the surface, every organization in the nation has to follow the existing rules regarding taxation. If you find tax exempt groups skirting those regulations they need to be brought into line or have their status changed.
But that’s not what’s really going on here, is it?
AARP is huge, with nearly 36 million members, and they’ve been around for so long they’re practically an institution. (Full disclosure: Yes, I’m a member. Yes, I think they provide some terrific services and programs.) And they’re operating pretty much as they always have. But a number of prominent Republican leaders are still upset that AARP supported Obamacare. And it’s been made clear already that AARP isn’t going to sign on for any major cuts or restructuring in Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security if seniors view it as endangering the benefits they receive or those still to come to their grandchildren. So now the GOP is considering taking the whip to them.
AARP is probably a lot more leery of playing ball on any entitlement changes this year. The last time they endorsed a move to make changes to one of the programs nearly 50,000 of their members quit in protest and they were left to deal with the backlash. It’s not just a “third rail” for politicians.
This is one tactic which the Republicans should look long and hard at before moving forward. If they wish to ride the white stallion of purity and say they simply want all non-profits to follow the law, then fine. It’s a noble sentiment, but they had better be ready to pay the price. Politically it looks like a suicide play. In case the leadership needs reminding, seniors vote at a more consistent rate than any other age group, and they are also the demographic group most likely to skew conservative and vote Republican. And for the most part, they like AARP.
A Republican attack on AARP for blatantly obvious partisan, political reasons could blow up in their faces. And doing this would probably just open the door for their opponents to begin calling for similar “purity driven” investigations of other non-profit groups who Republicans might not be so excited to go after, such as the Chamber of Commerce. Oh, wait… it’s already happening.