A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

60 Plus Association


 

Political leanings: Conservative/Republican

Spending target: Unknown. $5 million announced in September.

60 Plus, which has existed since 1992, describes itself as "a non-partisan seniors advocacy group with a free enterprise, less government, less taxes approach." It brags that it is "often viewed as the conservative alternative to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)." It is run by James L. Martin, a one-time journalist and former Republican operative who was chief of staff to the late Republican Sen. Edward J. Gurney of Florida in the late 1960s.

According to his official biography, Martin also "helped to organize and direct several advocacy groups including the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC)," which pioneered independent spending on attack ads and famously claimed credit for defeating several liberal Democratic senators in the 1980 elections. 60 Plus lists as its national spokesman 1950s pop star Pat Boone, who recently wrote that "liberalism" is like a cancer-causing virus. Martin and Boone have appeared at Tea Party rallies.

60 Plus advocates for permanent repeal of the estate tax (which it refers to as the "death tax"), against the new health care law, and in favor of creating personal retirement accounts within Social Security.

As a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization, 60 Plus is not required to disclose the sources of its funding, and it does not. It is legally free to accept corporate donations. When we asked who gives to the group, spokesman Tom Kise would only say that it is "supported by 5.5 million citizen activists and others." He wouldn’t identify the "others." Kise said he would relay our request for an interview to Martin. We are still waiting for a reply.

The group got a sudden infusion of money from somewhere. It claims to have spent $10 million last year on TV ads targeting House and Senate members who supported health care legislation. In mid-September, we wrote about false and misleading claims in attack ads 60 Plus was running against 16 Democratic House candidates; the amounts it said it was spending on those ads came to more than $5 million. Since then, it has aired other ads.

The sudden millions available to 60 Plus in 2009 and 2010 are far more than it had reported raising in any recent year, according to the 990 forms it filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The most recent available reports show gross receipts of $1.8 million during the year ended June 30, 2009, $1.9 million the year before that, $1.2 million for the previous year, and $1.9 million in 2006.

Liberal and Democratic critics routinely describe 60 Plus as a "front" for big pharmaceutical companies, but with little recent evidence to back up the claim. Slate magazine reported in October that "Pharma representatives deny that flat-out," and that "the rumor exists because Pharma gave the group money in 2002, but it hasn’t written a check since then." Slate said the source of 60 Plus’ millions remains a "mystery." Furthermore, the prescription-drug lobby and 60 Plus were on opposite sides during the debate over the new health care law. 60 Plus opposed the legislation, while the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America was spending tens of millions of dollars advertising in support of a compromise that is expected to bring the industry millions of new customers by expanding health insurance coverage, without imposing government cost controls. PhRMA endorsed the measure when it passed.