Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Three Groups Raise Millions as Alternatives to AARP

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Three Groups Raise Millions as Alternatives to AARP

Article excerpt

The letter to older people sounded urgent: Congress was about to make "BILLION-dollar cuts in Medicare funding," and donations were needed to pay for "intensive work by our team of lobbyists and legislative specialists."

With appeals like that one earlier this year, the United Seniors Association raises upwards of $5 million a year from its small headquarters in a modern office park in Virginia, an hour from the Capitol.

The association is one of three groups targeting the elderly that raise millions of dollars a year offering themselves as conservative lobbying alternatives to the gigantic American Association of Retired Persons. The other conservative groups are the Seniors Coalition and 60/Plus.

Many in Congress who control the issues important to older Americans say they have never heard of the alternative organizations, suggesting they are largely fund-raising machines that provide few services to donors.

But Seniors Coalition lobbyist Jake Hansen said Tuesday,"We've got a force of 14 people on the Hill, and all of them have contact with members or staff on a daily basis. It's a pretty hollow argument that we're not doing much of anything besides fund-raising." Congressional criticism, Hansen said, is "politically motivated."

Among two dozen members of the House and Senate from both parties and their staffs, only one - retiring Democratic Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois - mentioned United Seniors as active on Medicare and other issues for the elderly.

And even Simon is wary.

"My impression is that some groups - ostensibly set up to help seniors - primarily raise money for the people who supposedly are their advocates," he said, declining to name specific groups.

United Seniors and 60/Plus have links to the fund-raising empire of Richard Viguerie, and the Seniors Coalition used to. Viguerie's direct-mail appeals for conservatives ranging from Jesse Helms to Oliver North have raised eyebrows as much for their lucrative results as their content, which critics say preys on emotions and fears. …

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