ARP: Armey, Astroturf, And More


[more than a hat tip to Heather at VideoCafe -->many thanks for the video and the tip]

Meet Lawrence A. Hunter, the executive director of the Alliance for Retirement Prosperity, senior fellow at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFP) and the Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI). He might sound more familiar to you as the director of the Social Security Alliance, a 501(c)(4) group with the following mission statement (from their 2008 990 filing):

Working to promote the retirement security of today's seniors and the seniors of tomorrow. SSI's top policy priorities are to stop the raid on Social Security trust funds, prevent cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, and protect seniors from health care rationing and other limitations on their access to health care.

SSI was a recycle of an organization originally launched in 2004 at the time of the Great Social Security Privatization Debate. That organization was also known as the "Alliance for Retirement Prosperity", and was spun off by Jack Kemp and Dick Armey from Citizens for a Sound Economy, known today as FreedomWorks, and Kemp's Empower America. The IPI That organization's stated purpose was as follows:

Advocacy and lobbying activities aimed at reforming Social Security by dedicating a substantial portion of the payroll tax to large personal accounts.

The newest incarnation of the "Alliance for Retirement Prosperity" is a bit different, as Hunter indicates in the video. For starters, it's a for-profit group, purporting to be a "true alternative to the AARP". To that end, it offers members the opportunity to "ensure a prosperous, enriched and secure retirement" for the low, low price of $60 per year for the premium membership, and just $16 for an individual membership.

Hunter was quite adept at sidestepping the question of who put up the $5 million for marketing, organization and launch, but it doesn't take a genius to figure it out. Possibilities include the US Chamber of Commerce's newly-launched small business branch, the Koch brothers, the John Birch society, or other branches of the labyrinthine conservative think tank set. Hunter's reach is far and wide. He was prominent in the Reagan administration, was a policy maker under Bush, and was one of the leading voices against health care reform.

The Business
Health care reform is where the trail gets interesting, particularly in the intersection with this newly-remodeled organization. Part of the service package for members includes -- you guessed it -- insurance products. According to their site, you can buy Medicare supplemental insurance, personal health insurance products, and even get your very own advisors right there on the site, while shopping for travel discounts.

In California, the insurance products are marketed by Seabury & Smith Insurance Program Management. Seabury & Smith is a subsidiary of Marsh. Here's an excerpt from their Consumer Operations description:

The Affinity/Program businesses sell and administer insurance products and services on a program basis, typically working with a sponsoring organization client to leverage the affinity relationship that client has with its constituencies (e.g., employees, members, franchisees, or customers, as the case may be).


Affinity Program Solutions: markets and administers standardized and customized insurance programs, selling and servicing group/master and individual policies for many life & health and property & casualty lines of insurance business as well as certain other non-insurance products and services. Clients generally include associations, employers, unions, fraternal organizations, franchisors, and other consumer-focused "brand" companies, including large multinational financial institutions and automobile manufacturers.

If you haven't figured it out by now, those "small businesses" referred to in the video are likely to be insurance industry groups looking for a new group of shoppers. But wait! There's more. The ARP website has nifty tools and widgets for someone planning a business or starting a business. No surprise there, either. They're created by Marsh for affinity marketing.

If you browse the Personal Insurance/Products links, they'll all require personal information and a membership so an agent can harass contact you.

In other words, this site is really nothing more than a front to sell insurance from allied providers, unless you're interested in travel. If that's your gig, well, they've got it covered. Resort vacations, hotel rewards, cruises, you name it. All at your fingertips.


Let's start with Mr. Hunter. He appears to be a "tenther", and has written articles for the Tenth Amendment Center affirming that philosophy. Projects for tenthers include a big "nullification tour" to encourage states to just say no to those pesky federal laws they don't want. He assisted Eric Odom's American Liberty Alliance with strategies last year to fight passage, especially the "stand firm and just vote no" obstructionism of the Republican party.

Oh, I should also probably add that John Birchers are also nullification freaks.

Hunter is absolutely committed to the privatization of Social Security and Medicare. Of all the marketing material on these sites along with his CSPAN presentation, his contention that he is fighting for retirement security or to preserve the Social Security trust fund is possibly the biggest, most bald-faced lie I've heard out of a Republican this week. He wants at least half of everyone's Social Security taxes to go to Wall Street, plain and simple. Not content to stop there, he is fully entrenched in the "save Medicare Advantage" group, or what I like to call the "insurance agents' retirement plan".

As President of the original Alliance for Retirement Prosperity, he partnered with the 60 Plus Association, Club for Growth, Leadership Institute and United Seniors Association -- all Republican astroturf front groups created to prey on senior citizens' fears and concerns about their future. He is also associated with Lewis K. Uhler, head of the National Tax Limitation Committee and fellow board member of the Social Security Institute.

But more than all of that, you need to know this about Hunter and his organization: He is deeply entrenched in the insurance industry and has been for years. He is the champion of insurance deregulation, and has written issue briefs for the IPI about the dangers of insurance and federal regulation. Here's his thesis from his paper entitled "Trapped in Amber: Bringing Insurance Regulation into the 21st Century"

The entire edifice of insurance regulation by state governments is a leftover from the New Deal. Since World War II, in virtually every industry other than insurance, this type of regulatory control has been replaced by more realistic, market-based mechanisms. The recent attempts by the state of Florida to regulate insurance prices demonstrate the compelling need to modernize today's dysfunctional state insurance regulatory system.

This was written in February, 2008. Shortly thereafter Wall Street collapsed, and along with it, AIG. But of course, that doesn't matter to a guy like Hunter, who is entrenched head-to-toe with the insurers and their agents.

You know who else sports a lot of insurance agents on their membership rolls? The John Birch Society. They seem to crawl out from under their secret rocks and rings when they run for office.

Oh, the irony...

There's more than a small amount of irony in the claim that the AARP lives in Democrats' pocket. Strangely, I remember vowing never to renew or forgive them for supporting Medicare Part D legislation, particularly Medicare Advantage. Seems to me they act in the interest of their members, though not necessarily their best interests. On the other hand, I've never perceived AARP as particularly partisan in nature.

However, it's difficult to accept Hunter's contention that this new competitor - ARP - is purely a non-partisan alternative to the AARP. One look at their politics page tells the tale. Fred Thompson's smiling face is looking back on one tab, while a pretty Hispanic lady underscores "The Obamacare Reality".

Non-partisan? Hardly. This is the Republican Party, dressed up as a group that gives a damn about senior citizens. It's a front group for insurance agents and tenthers, preying on seniors and stoking fear and loathing. All hail John Birch. It has re-invented itself with a new name: Republicans.


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