Pressure from seniors and progressive groups led AARP to announce last week that it would drop its ALEC membership.
AARP announced its decision to cut ties with ALEC last Thursday, shortly after the progressive watchdog group Center for Media and Democracy reported that AARP had recently become an ALEC member and was among the sponsors of its annual meeting last month.
ALEC is a conservative association of state legislators and corporate members who craft legislation called "model" bills, including policies that critics say would harm seniors. Participating legislators later introduce the ALEC-backed, pro-corporate proposals in their state.
Senior advocacy groups have criticized ALEC, in part, for supporting Social Security privatization, fighting against the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion, backing policies to boost Big Pharma and pushing state voter ID laws, which disproportionately impact seniors, minorities and other groups.
The Center for Media and Democracy's report triggered outcry from AARP members. They bombarded AARP's Facebook page with comments demanding that the group drop its ALEC membership.
"No organization that claims to represent retirees should be anywhere near ALEC, let alone funding them," wrote one commenter. "You should immediately end financial support of ALEC and repudiate the group. I have been a member fifty years but I guess that should end too."
"If I had known you were funding ALEC I would not have just renewed my membership," another AARP member stated. "Cut the ties NOW or lose members!!"
"ALEC has produced 'model legislation' that would replace Social Security with Private Retirement Accounts (PRA's)," someone else added. "Why would AARP give membership dollars to a group that wants to leave retired people wholly at the mercy of the market?"
MoveOn.org, Stand Up to ALEC, Social Security Works and other groups also circulated online petitions urging AARP to cut ties with ALEC.
AARP responded to the criticism Thursday via its Facebook page:
After hearing from many of you, we've decided not to renew our membership to ALEC. We would never work against the interests of older Americans and our engagement with ALEC was NOT an endorsement of the organization's policies, but an opportunity to engage with state legislators and advance our members' priorities.
AARP is and always has been non-partisan. We meet with legislators from both sides of the aisle in order to do our job: fighting to improve the lives of people 50+. We will continue to explore ways to serve our diverse membership and fulfill our responsibility to engage with all legislators on the issues important to older Americans and their families.
The announcement came the same day that a coalition of environmental, labor, progressive and senior advocacy groups sent a letter to AARP's CEO, pressing the organization to dump ALEC.
"We are calling on AARP to withdraw all support for ALEC, a group that has consistently promoted policies that hurt seniors," the letter stated in part. "AARP's support of ALEC is antithetical to your mission to fight for the issues that matter most to families -- such as health care, employment and income security."
AFSCME was among the organizations that signed off on the letter. The labor group called AARP's decision to dump ALEC a "victory for seniors."
"AARP, like AFSCME, is a powerful advocate for retirement security and many other issues affecting retirees and those who are about to leave the workforce," reads a post on AFSCME's website. "By removing its support for ALEC, AARP has demonstrated that it will not be a partner in ALEC's extremist agenda."
AARP now joins a growing list of over 100 non-profits and companies that have abandoned ALEC in recent years. Among the corporations that have parted ways with the right-wing policy group: Coca-Cola Co., Google, McDonald's, Shell Oil and T-Mobile, to name just a few.