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Friday
Apr012011

GOP Questions AARP's Tax-Exempt Status; Dems Call it a 'Political Witch Hunt'

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- AARP was caught in a political crossfire Friday as Republicans from the House Ways and Means committee held a hearing intended to examine the organization’s structure and finances and questioned its tax exempt status.

“AARP may have strayed from its original mission, and it brings into question whether it’s appropriate for it to continue to operate as a 501(c)(4) tax exempt organization,” Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany, R-La., said.

But the hearing quickly turned into political theater as the sides bickered over the intent of the hearing.

Democrats on the committee accused Republicans of engaging in a “political witch hunt,” punishing AARP for its support of the Affordable Care Act.  Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., likened the hearing to Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible.”

“Your sin, as you may know, is that you backed the Affordable Care Act,” McDermott said.

“This amounts to nothing more than a political witch hunt to punish an organization that spoke out in favor of health reform,” Ranking Member Pete Stark, D-Calif., said.

AARP, a non-profit organization serving 37 million members over the age of 50, supported the enactment of the Affordable Care Act in March of 2010, and CEO Barry Rand condemned recent efforts to repeal the act.

“We recognize there are serious arguments on both sides of this debate. We have analyzed them carefully and conclude that the Affordable Care Act will help millions of Americans afford insurance coverage, will strengthen Medicare and will add new benefits and protections that will help you and your family,” Rand wrote in an AARP bulletin last month.

Earlier this week, Reps. Wally Herger, R-Calif., Dave Reichert, R-Wash., and Charles Boustany, R-La., released a report entitled, “Behind the Veil: The AARP America Doesn’t Know,” which detailed an eighteen month investigation into the organization, which concluded AARP would gain financially from the healthcare law and a conflict existed between the organization’s drive for profit and maintaining the interests of its members.

Rand expressed the AARP’s concern with the report’s conclusions in his testimony.

“We are surprised and disappointed both by the title and substance of the report a few members released this week,” Rand said.  “There is no veil.  Quite frankly we disagree with each of the conclusions drawn in this one-sided report.”

Several Democrats, including Reps. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. and Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., also took issue with the report on procedural grounds, stalling the flow of the hearing at times, but Herger continued to steer the hearing towards its original intent.

But Democrats remained adamant in questioning Republicans’ objective behind inviting AARP to testify and urged the committee to examine other tax-exempt organizations, such as the 60 Plus Association, Crossroads GPS, and Tea Party organizations.

“I think we have to ask the question -- is this political payback or will this committee be reviewing the tax status of other non-profit organizations that get involved in the political process?” Mike Thompson, D-Calif., asked.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio