Non-profit

AARP

AARP HQ 6th at E NW DC (link) by Smallbones is licensed CC0 (link)
Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

95-1985500

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(4)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $1,712,173,381
Expenses: $1,543,569,907
Assets: $2,650,194,600

CEO:

Jo Ann Jenkins

AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, is a lobbying group that engages in lobbying at the state, local, and federal level on a range of issues affecting older adults. AARP also has extensive business interests, including in health insurance and brand licensing. [1] AARP claims 38 million members, making it the largest interest group in America. [2]

AARP is generally considered to be left-of-center. [3][4] It is a frequent supporter of left-leaning health care policy and has resisted Republican efforts to reform entitlement programs such as Social Security. [5] AARP describes itself as “a champion for social change” with an “ambitious social agenda.” [6]  More than 98 percent of the political donations made by AARP staff in 2016 and 2018 went to Democratic candidates and affiliated groups. [7]

AARP, the nonprofit entity, is the parent organization of two for-profit wholly owned subsidiaries, AARP Services, Inc. and AARP Financial,[8] which generate revenue from insurance products, marketing deals, and other products and services offered to members. [9]

In 2017, AARP reported total assets of $4.2 billion and operating revenue of $1.6 billion. [10]

History

Founding

AARP was founded in 1958 by Ethel Percy Andrus, a retired educator from California. It evolved from the National Retired Teachers Association (NRTA), which Andrus had established in 1947 in part to promote health insurance for retired teachers. [11]

Instrumental in AARP’s evolution from the NRTA was Leonard Davis, the founder of the Colonial Penn Group of insurance companies. [12] [13] “60 Minutes” reported in 1978 that Davis devised AARP as a marketing device for his insurance business after he met Ethel Percy Andrus in the late 1950s. Davis then ran AARP until the 1980s, promoting its image as a non-profit advocate of retirees in order to sell insurance to members. [14]

Early Growth

The association’s explosive growth came under Cyril F. Brickfield, who took over in 1967 when the group claimed one million members. Under Brickfield, AARP lowered its eligibility age in 1984 to 50 from 55, causing membership to grow rapidly. By the time Brickfield stepped down in 1987, membership was claimed at 28 million. [15]

Membership also grew as the U.S. population steadily aged in the latter decades of the 20th century. Horace B. Deets, AARP’s executive director for much of the 1990s, told an interviewer, “The demographics are on our side.” [16]

Disputes over Non-Profit Status

In the 1990s, the United States Senate investigated AARP’s non-profit status. U.S. Senator Alan K. Simpson (R-WY), then-chairman of the United States Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy, questioned the organization’s tax-exempt status, alleging the organization had learned to “gimmick” nonprofit laws to benefit its “vast business empire” and lobbying machine. [17]

In 1994, AARP settled a dispute with the IRS over its business income through insurance sales, paying $135 million in back taxes and penalties. [18] As part of the settlement, AARP also spun off a commercial subsidiary, AARP Services Inc., to house its insurance businesses and grow its other service offerings. Steve Zaleznick, AARP’s general counsel from 1990 to 1997, was named chief executive of the new for-profit subsidiary. [19]

AARP also came under fire for its receipt of large federal grants while it continued to expand its lobbying operations. In 1995, AARP received $86 million in federal funding even while it played a major role in stopping a Republican-sponsored Medicare reform plan in Congress. That same year, Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, making organizations like AARP that engage in lobbying ineligible to receive federal funds.

In response, AARP in 1996 established another subsidiary, the AARP Foundation, as a charity that does not engage in lobbying, thus making it eligible to receive government grants. [20] It has continued to take in tens of millions of dollars in grants every year. Charlie Jarvis, Chairman and CEO of USA Next, estimated that between 1989 and 2005, “AARP appears to have taken over a billion dollars in taxpayer money in the form of federal grants.” [21]

In 1999, the U.S. Postal Service fined AARP $5.6 million for mailing millions of solicitations for commercial insurance using the nonprofit rate rather than the commercial rate for postage. [22]

Expansion of Membership Base

The acronym “A.A.R.P.” originally stood for the American Association of Retired Persons, but in 1999 the organization officially changed its name to “AARP”, to reflect that its membership and focus were no longer exclusive to retirees. [23] AARP changed its membership requirements to do away with all age restrictions, making it possible to gain full membership at any age to take advantage of AARP-negotiated discounts for travel, dining, entertainment, and shopping. [24]

Leadership

In 2014, Jo Ann Jenkins was appointed AARP’s CEO. She was previously the chief operating officer of the Library of Congress and the president and COO of the AARP Foundation. [25]

AARP employs several former staffers of Democratic candidates and officials. Executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer Nancy LeaMond worked for many years in Democratic administrations and for Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill. [26] Executive vice president and chief of staff Kevin Donnellan joined the organization after serving as executive assistant to former U.S. Representative Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY). [27]

Criticism has been leveled at the salaries earned by AARP leadership. According to AARP’s 2017 IRS annual return, Jenkins earned total compensation of $1,365,574. Including Jenkins, seven officers earned more than $500,000 per year and 14 earned more than $400,000 in 2017. [28]

Activities and Reach

AARP currently has interests in insurance, lobbying, media, travel, charity, real estate, and more. Dale Van Atta, a journalist who has investigated the organization, says AARP is “really a Fortune 500 company that sidelines as a lobbying organization for the Washington staff.” [29]

Business Interests

The largest share of AARP’s income comes from royalty fees. [30]

In 2017, according to AARP’s consolidated financial statements, the organization took in $908 million from royalties for the rights to use AARP’s intellectual property, paid by commercial providers of products, services, and discounts for AARP members. Meanwhile, AARP also brought in $301 million from membership dues, $147 million from publication advertising, $99 million in grant revenue (mostly from the U.S. government), and $116 million from independent contributions, contributing to a total operating revenue of 1.6 billion. [31]

AARP’s business interests are often the subject of controversy. In 2011, the House Ways & Means Committee issued an investigative report titled, “Behind the Veil: The AARP America Doesn’t Know” that calls attention to the group’s lucrative business dealings. [32] Then-U.S. Representative Wally Herger (R-CA), a coauthor of the report, stated, “The facts show that AARP no longer operates like a seniors’ advocacy organization. Instead it more closely resembles a for-profit insurance company.” [33]

Lobbying

AARP has a long history of lobbying at the federal, state, and local levels, though the totals it has spent on traditional lobbying have declined from a peak of $36 million in 2005 to $8.2 million in 2018. [34] However, the organization also spends heavily on political advertising and grassroots campaigns to support its preferred legislation. [35] [36]

Media Production

Its monthly print publication, AARP the Magazine, has the largest circulation of any magazine in the United States. [37]

The organization also produces radio and television programs and has a book division. For example, Prime Time Radio, hosted by broadcaster Mike Cuthbert, is a one-hour weekly interview program that focuses on the interests and concerns of Americans aged 50 and older. The program is heard on radio stations mainly in the United States. [38]

Advocacy Positions

Support for Obamacare

AARP was an active supporter of Obamacare throughout the 2009 to 2010 legislative session during which the law was debated and ultimately passed. Emails released by the House Energy and Commerce Committee in 2012 revealed that AARP’s top leadership was in regular contact with Obama administration senior officials to discuss strategy of how to pass the legislation. [39]

One email showed AARP senior vice president David Sloane sending the administration “as promised” his “message points” on Medicare. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Nancy-Ann DeParle assured him “I think you will hear some of your lines tomorrow” in President Obama’s speech. [40]

In August 2009, AARP unveiled a national advertising campaign in support of Obamacare, to ensure that “every member of Congress knows the 50-plus community wants action to fix what’s wrong with healthcare.” [41] AARP made this claim despite weeks of daily internal polling showing that its members opposed the president’s plan. [42]

The Wall Street Journal described AARP support for Obamacare this way:[43]

“AARP worked through 2009-10 as an extension of a Democratic White House, toiling daily to pass a health bill that slashes $716 billion from Medicare, strips seniors of choice, and sets the stage for rationing. We know that despite AARP’s awareness that its seniors overwhelmingly opposed the bill, the “nonpartisan membership organization” chose to serve the president’s agenda.”

Some have suggested that AARP was financially motivated in its support for Obamacare. AARP earned considerable income from contracts with UnitedHealthcare in 2009 and 2010, at the height of the Obamacare debate. These contracts totaled over $1 billion. [44]

Some of the contracts included royalty payments allowing UnitedHealthcare to use the AARP brand on its marketing materials. UnitedHealthcare also contracted with AARP to provide “Medigap” supplementary policies, which pay for what traditional Medicare doesn’t. Beneficiaries pay their Medigap premiums directly to AARP’s Insurance Plan, which retains almost 5 percent of premiums.

The Capital Research Center reported on the benefits for AARP of Obamacare’s passage:

“Despite the Obamacare cuts, UnitedHealthcare will continue to pay AARP a royalty payment for its brand name—even if the number of its Medicare Advantage policyholders declines as premiums rise. But AARP’s income from the sale of its Medigap program should soar. It’s a win-win for AARP.” [45]

Social Security

AARP has been accused of using scare tactics to convince seniors to oppose entitlement and social security reforms. [46] In 2005, AARP helped lead the effort to stop President George W. Bush’s plan for partial privatization of Social Security. AARP has stated, “We favor private accounts when they are in addition to Social Security, but not as a substitute.” [47]

Other

AARP supports a tax structure whereby “the percentage of income paid in taxes should increase with a measure of ability to pay.” It also supports the “death” tax, known formally as the estate tax. [48]

References

  1. CRC Staff. “AARP: Advocacy Group or Crony Capitalists?” Capital Research Center. May 1, 2012. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/aarp-advocacy-group-or-crony-capitalists/ ^
  2. Day, Christine L. “AARP: America’s Largest Interest Group and its Impact.” Published Oct 19, 2017. Accessed via Google Books October 21, 2019. ^
  3. “Does the AARP Have a Progressive Agenda?” Fox News. Dec. 8, 2004. October 21, 2019. https://www.foxnews.com/story/does-the-aarp-have-a-progressive-agenda ^
  4. Carney, Timothy. “AARP draws political fire.” The Washington Examiner. December 11, 2009. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/aarp-draws-political-fire ^
  5. CRC Staff. “AARP: Advocacy Group or Crony Capitalists?” Capital Research Center. May 1, 2012. Accessed October 25, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/aarp-advocacy-group-or-crony-capitalists/ ^
  6. “Careers at AARP.” AARP.org. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/about-aarp/ ^
  7. Tapscott, Mark. “AARP Is Officially Nonpartisan but Group Officials’ Money Mostly Goes to Dems.” The Epoch Times. July 23, 2019. Accessed October 25, 2019. https://www.theepochtimes.com/3013244_3013244.html ^
  8. Johnston, David Cay. “A.A.R.P. Sets Up a Taxable Subsidiary.” The New York Times. July 15, 1999. Accessed October 25, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1999/07/15/business/aarp-sets-up-a-taxable-subsidiary.html ^
  9. “Member Benefits.” AARP.org. Accessed October 25, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/benefits-discounts/ ^
  10. “Consolidated Financial Statements Together with Report of Independent Certified Public Accountants.” December 31, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/about_aarp/about_us/2018/aarp-2017-audited-financial-statement.pdf ^
  11. “NRTA: The Seed That Grew Into AARP.” AARP.org. August 1, 2017Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/about-aarp/nrta/info-2017/nrta-grew-into-aarp.html ^
  12. Oliver, Myrna. “Leonard Davis; Helped Start AARP and Gerontology Programs at USC.” LA Times.

    January 23, 2001. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2001-jan-23-me-15772-story.html ^

  13. “Obituary: AARP founder, philanthropist Leonard Davis, 76.” USC News. January 24, 2001. October 21, 2019. https://news.usc.edu/6078/Obituary-AARP-founder-philanthropist-Leonard-Davis-76/ ^
  14. Krugman, Paul. “Demographics and Destiny.” The New York Times. Oct. 20, 1996. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/20/books/demographics-and-destiny.html?pagewanted=print ^
  15. Holmes, Steven. “The World According to AARP.” The New York Times. March 21, 2001. Accessed October 28, 2019.  https://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/21/jobs/the-world-according-to-aarp.html ^
  16. Swoboda, Frank. “AARP Flexes Its Muscle.” April 18, 1988. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/business/1988/04/18/aarp-flexes-its-muscle/6f369628-d62a-4181-82f8-083499ca6cee/ ^
  17. “Sen. Simpson Assails AARP Empire.” The Washington Post. May 4, 1995. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1995/05/04/sen-simpson-assails-aarp-empire/e2e5e624-2d40-46fd-9dad-91da3a28d5f5/ ^
  18. “AARP Settles IRS Dispute for $135 Million.” LA Times. Aug 31, 1994. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-08-31-fi-33289-story.html ^
  19. Johnston, David Cay. “A.A.R.P. Sets Up a Taxable Subsidiary.” The New York Times. July 15, 1999 Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/1999/07/15/business/aarp-sets-up-a-taxable-subsidiary.html ^
  20. Carlisle, John. “Special Report: How the Federal Government Subsidizes AARP.” Published May 2005. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://nlpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/AARP-Special-Report.pdf ^
  21. Carlisle, John. “Special Report: How the Federal Government Subsidizes AARP.” Published May 2005. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://nlpc.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/AARP-Special-Report.pdf ^
  22. Holmes, Steven. “The World According to AARP.” The New York Times. March 21, 2001. Accessed October 28, 2019.  https://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/21/jobs/the-world-according-to-aarp.html ^
  23. “AARP Expanding its Reach.” AARP.org. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/about-aarp/history/dates-in-aarp-history/ ^
  24. Ma, Roger. “Here’s Why I Joined AARP At Age 35.” Forbes. Aug 31, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerma/2017/08/31/why-i-joined-aarp-at-age-35/#58cac7d970f5 ^
  25. “How Did I Get Here?” Bloomberg Businessweek. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-how-did-i-get-here/jo-ann-jenkins.html ^
  26. “Nancy LeaMond.” AARP.org/leadership. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/about-aarp/executive-team/info-2016/nancy-leamond.html ^
  27. “Kevin Donnellan.” AARP.org/leadership. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/about-aarp/executive-team/info-2016/kevin-donnellan.html ^
  28. “Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax.” IRS Form 990 for AARP. 2017. ^
  29. C. Carlisle. “How the Government Subsidizes AARP.” Human Events. December 8, 2005. Accessed October 27, 2019. https://humanevents.com/2005/12/08/how-the-government-subsidizes-aarp/ ^
  30. CRC Staff. “AARP: Advocacy Group or Crony Capitalists?” Capital Research Center. May 1, 2012. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/aarp-advocacy-group-or-crony-capitalists/ ^
  31. “Consolidated Financial Statements Together with Report of Independent Certified Public Accountants.” December 31, 2017. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/about_aarp/about_us/2018/aarp-2017-audited-financial-statement.pdf ^
  32. CRC Staff. “AARP: Advocacy Group or Crony Capitalists?” Capital Research Center. May 1, 2012. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/aarp-advocacy-group-or-crony-capitalists/ ^
  33. Hornick, Ed and Xuan Thai. “GOP takes aim at AARP: Will it backfire?” CNN. April 1, 2011. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.cnn.com/2011/POLITICS/04/01/congress.aarp/index.html ^
  34. “AARP Lobbying Profile.” OpenSecrets.org. Accessed https://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/clientsum.php?id=D000023726 ^
  35. Pear, Robert. “In Ads, AARP Criticizes Plan on Privatizing.” The New York Times. Dec. 30, 2004. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/30/politics/in-ads-aarp-criticizes-plan-on-privatizing.html ^
  36. Tadena, Nathalie. “AARP Targets Political Influencers on YouTube.” March 16, 2016. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/aarp-targets-political-influencers-on-youtube-1458165057 ^
  37. “Trustworthy Information.” AARP.org. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://www.aarp.org/about-aarp/company/social-impact/ ^
  38. “In First Joint Book Effort, AARP and ABA Publish Practical Guide for Family Survivors.” AARP.org. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://press.aarp.org/2014-04-08-In-First-Joint-Book-Effort-AARP-and-ABA-Publish-Practical-Guide-for-Family-Survivors ^
  39. “Footnote One.” Released emails between Obama admin and AARP leadership. http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/AARP_letter.pdf?mod=article_inline ^
  40. “Footnote One.” Released emails between Obama admin and AARP leadership. http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/AARP_letter.pdf?mod=article_inline ^
  41. Strassel, Kimberly. “Strassel: The Love Song of AARP and Obama.” The Wall Street Journal. Sept. 20, 2012. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444165804578008413907642282 ^
  42. “Footnote Two.” Released emails showing that AARP members opposed Obamacare. http://online.wsj.com/public/resources/documents/strasselaarp1.pdf?mod=article_inline ^
  43. Strassel, Kimberly. “Strassel: The Love Song of AARP and Obama.” The Wall Street Journal. Sept. 20, 2012. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390444165804578008413907642282 ^
  44. CRC Staff. “AARP: Advocacy Group or Crony Capitalists?” Capital Research Center. May 1, 2012. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/aarp-advocacy-group-or-crony-capitalists/ ^
  45. CRC Staff. “AARP: Advocacy Group or Crony Capitalists?” Capital Research Center. May 1, 2012. Accessed October 21, 2019. https://capitalresearch.org/article/aarp-advocacy-group-or-crony-capitalists/ ^
  46. Zuckerman, Jill. “AARP: Don’t mess with Social Security.” Chicago Tribune. January 30, 2005. Accessed October 28, 2019. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2005-01-30-0501300337-story.html ^
  47. Pear, Robert. “AARP Opposes Bush Plan to Replace Social Security With Private Accounts.” The New York Times. November 12, 2004. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/11/12/politics/aarp-opposes-bush-plan-to-replace-social-security-with-private.html ^
  48. The Policy Book. Chapter 2. Page 2.2. Published by AARP, 2007. http://assets.aarp.org/www.aarp.org_/articles/legpolicy/2_tax07.pdf ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Jo Ann Jenkins
    Chief Executive Officer
  2. Stephanie Firestone
    Senior Strategic Policy Adviser

Associated Organizations

  1. AARP Foundation (Non-profit)

Coalition Memberships

  1. Alliance for Justice (AFJ)
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: May 1, 1967

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Dec Form 990 $1,712,173,381 $1,543,569,907 $2,650,194,600 $1,290,538,998 Y $344,539,064 $186,854,032 $121,719,320 $6,240,215 PDF
    2016 Dec Form 990 $1,604,218,960 $1,562,766,940 $2,371,948,522 $1,217,828,544 Y $326,378,487 $200,185,856 $69,378,846 $6,479,508 PDF
    2015 Dec Form 990 $1,525,138,397 $1,317,954,322 $2,354,580,583 $1,207,643,852 Y $322,267,320 $195,563,176 $55,616,827 $8,832,010 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $1,399,004,768 $1,314,499,116 $2,330,580,646 $1,288,943,708 Y $323,609,282 $181,576,151 $40,518,769 $8,694,890 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $1,332,695,007 $1,219,598,238 $2,213,302,611 $1,070,554,203 Y $326,250,949 $176,221,804 $33,221,425 $7,467,434 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $1,231,693,441 $1,282,606,889 $1,931,032,941 $1,184,592,373 Y $311,634,994 $168,654,800 $27,977,864 $6,747,633 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $1,224,437,632 $1,165,244,846 $1,674,176,647 $1,007,921,389 Y $302,197,818 $165,300,742 $54,101,783 $6,463,754 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    AARP

    601 E ST NW
    WASHINGTON, DC 20049-0001