“Saturday Night Live” is known for many things, especially the commercial spoofs that for decades have lampooned merchandise and marketing trends. One of the most iconic featured Chevy Chase as a pitchman hawking a product that was both “a dessert topping and a floor wax.”
That kind of absurd duality is funny. That kind of duality in a political group is dangerous and calls into question the advocacy in which they engage.
Everyone thinks AARP, the group formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, represents the interests of millions of seniors, making it one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. People don’t realize it’s also an insurance company and rakes in hundreds of millions selling Medigap coverage to its members.
Which interest is dominant: the commercial or the political? Given the group’s influence on important issues like healthcare, it’s a fair question. A recently released Juniper Research Group report suggests commercial concerns now may override in importance the lifestyle and economic issues on which AARP made its name.
Citing several sources, the report says that although AARP members contacting the group’s headquarters opposed the Affordable Care Act by a margin of 14 to 1, it went ahead and backed the bill anyway. Could that be because its insurance company partner – UnitedHealth – was more interested in getting a law on the books requiring every American to purchase health insurance than what its members wanted?
The report, available at www.CommitmentToSeniors.org and compiled for the group American Commitment, says the money coming from the purchase of supplemental health insurance coverage is now AARP’s main revenue source. However, rather than helping seniors select a plan tailored to their needs or financial resources, the group sells UnitedHealth insurance exclusively in return for a 4.95% cut on every plan sold.
This relationship brought more than $600 million into AARP’s coffers in 2017. Some might see that as evidence the group has evolved into a marketing vehicle for the nation’s largest health insurer. Several ongoing lawsuits contest that the money flowing to the group from its deal with UnitedHealth constitutes an “illegal kickback” because the potential customers are told the policies are cheaper than what’s available in the marketplace when identical coverage can be obtained without paying AARP’s commission.
Many of the same politicians who criticized the health insurance industry and other corporate interests as being selfish during the debate over Obamacare nonetheless hang on every word issuing from AARP headquarters. Obviously, they’ve failed to ask themselves if the group is speaking for its members or its funders.
American needs healthcare reform. Obamacare distorted the system in all kinds of ways. It made it difficult to keep the doctors we like and to utilize the insurance we bought because deductibles have risen so much. If we’re going to have an honest discussion about how to get out of the mess we’re in, the key players need to show their cards – or have them shown for them.
The elite media and so-called good government groups keep a close eye out for conflicts of interest, both real and potential, in the advocacy community on the right.
They argue against the influence of so-called “dark money” on all kinds of issues, not just healthcare. The watchdog groups who like to tie groups that question the existence and impact of climate change to oil companies and supporters of the Second Amendment to gun manufacturers seem to have missed the link between United Health and AARP.
Maybe they just don’t want to see it.
Sixteen Thirty Fund acts as network for liberal donors to anonymously give to Democratic committees
Deep-pocketed liberal donors are using a massive dark money network to conceal the source of nearly $20 million in donations to pro-Biden PACs.
At least $19.8 million has made its way through the Sixteen Thirty Fund to liberal PACs for the 2020 cycle. The fund, which normally works with advocacy organizations, has switched its focus to the election in recent months, sending large amounts to groups supporting Joe Biden in the presidential race. Wealthy donors push cash into the Sixteen Thirty Fund—an entity housed at the D.C.-based dark money network Arabella Advisors—which then disburses the money to prominent Democratic committees.
Arabella Advisors operates as an important funding avenue for wealthy liberal donors, allowing them to contribute to political groups anonymously. Each of several funds within Arabella, including the Sixteen Thirty Fund, acts as a “fiscal sponsor,” providing its legal and tax-exempt status to dozens of liberal groups that fall under its auspices. That status absolves the groups from having to disclose their donors. Donors’ use of the Sixteen Thirty Fund as a vehicle for election PAC donations marks a departure from the group’s normal operations. It normally serves as a pass-through entity to bankroll shadowy nonprofit groups behind left-wing initiatives. This year, however, Democratic candidates including Joe Biden will benefit from the fund’s disbursements despite railing against secret money in politics.
The fund’s relationship to liberal nonprofits has raised eyebrows among money-in-politics watchdogs. Anna Massoglia, a dark money researcher at the Center for Responsive Politics, said the Sixteen Thirty Fund “has taken dark money in politics to a new level of opacity by channeling money from secret donors to political groups while steering funds into its own fiscally sponsored operations.”
“Sixteen Thirty Fund’s fiscal sponsorship scheme not only enables seemingly independent groups to operate under its umbrella with little or no paper trail but also enables them to engage in a level of political activity that might not be possible if they operated as separate tax-exempt nonprofits,” Massoglia said.
Several election-focused PACs received large sums from Sixteen Thirty, according to FEC filings. The pro-Biden Unite the Country PAC, liberal operative David Brock’s American Bridge PAC, and a joint fundraising venture between the two groups hauled in a combined $11.4 million from the fund last month. Priorities USA Action, the largest Democratic super PAC, received $3.5 million. The Black PAC, a progressive group focused on black voter turnout, received $2.25 million from the dark money entity—nearly all of the $2.5 million the committee raised in June.
The Sixteen Thirty Fund pushed more than $2.5 million to other Democratic PACs earlier this cycle, including six-figure sums to the Nancy Pelosi-linked House Majority PAC, Shaun King’s Real Justice PAC, and Forward Majority Action. It also sent seven-figure sums to Future Forward USA PAC.
“Liberal dark money groups outspent their conservative counterparts in 2018 for the first election cycle since Citizens United,” Massoglia said. “But direct spending by groups like 501(c)(4) nonprofits is only a fraction of the secret donor money seeping into U.S. elections since dark money groups also steer donations to groups like super PACs.”ADVERTISING
Arabella’s massive network has facilitated the transfer of more than $1 billion from Democratic donors to powerful liberal groups and initiatives in 2017 and 2018 alone.
“The Sixteen Thirty Fund provides support to advocates and social welfare organizations around the country, and we will continue to grow our program,” Amy Kurtz, the fund’s executive director, told the Washington Free Beacon. She added that the fund would continue to support groups that work on causes such as “economic equity, the climate crisis, racial justice, and participation in our democracy.”