In mid-August 2020, Snopes readers inquired about a meme circulating on Facebook that claimed money given to AARP (formerly American Association of Retired Persons), an advocacy organization that lobbies on behalf of retired Americans, goes “directly” to the Democratic party.
It’s unclear what exactly is meant by the phrase, “what you pay AARP.” The organization has an estimated 38 million members, all of whom typically pay annual dues at $16 per year. As a 501(c)4 tax-exempt organization, it also accepts charitable donations.
Either way, any money paid to AARP through membership dues or donations does not go “directly” to the Democratic party.
In terms of candidates and political parties, however, AARP’s official position is that it is non-partisan. The organization states it “does not support, endorse or contribute to political candidates or parties.”
Instead, per AARP, the organization’s role in terms of election politics is “connecting voters to information about where the candidates stand on issues most important to them including the future of Social Security and other critical issues related to financial security, health and well-being.”
We checked the AARP’s federal campaign finance data using the website Open Secrets, a project operated by the government accountability organization The Center for Responsive Politics. We found no contributions to any political candidates or parties, Democratic or otherwise, from AARP, the organization. However, contributions from individuals who work for AARP is another matter.
“AARP does not have any record of direct contributions to political parties or candidates based on my review of federal campaign finance and tax filings covering recent years, but AARP’s officers [executives] and employees can still make political donations in a personal capacity, and contributions from donors listing AARP as their employer in Federal Election Commission records have primarily gone to Democratic candidates in recent years,” said Anna Massoglia, a researcher for The Center for Responsive Politics.
AARP policy prohibits employees or officers from engaging in any personal political activity using AARP resources or during work hours.
According to campaign finance data tracked by Open Secrets, individual donors associated with AARP made a total of $96,381 in political contributions as of this writing in the 2020 federal election cycle, the majority (87.45%) of those donations going to Democratic candidates.
Massoglia said that as a 501(c)4 organization, the AARP is allowed under U.S. tax code to engage in some political campaign activity. But their activities have been issue-oriented and bipartisan. For example, a 2018 AARP ad praised U.S. President Donald Trump on drug pricing policy. The organization has also supported upholding the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health care law signed by Trump’s Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama.
AARP spokesperson Jason Young told us by phone that the organization, as a 501(c)4 non-profit, is prohibited by law from making political contributions. “Not only does AARP not make donations of this sort, we never have and we don’t have a PAC,” Young added.
Young said that although some AARP employees have made political contributions in a personal capacity, the sum of donations is relatively small.
“It’s fair to say we are largely absent form this type of political engagement, and that’s because AARP as an organization is focused on policy, not politics,” Young stated.
Although it’s true that individuals who work for AARP have donated primarily to Democratic candidates, individual donations are not the same as contributions by an organization. Because AARP as an organization has not contributed to the Democratic party or its candidates, we rate this claim, “False.”