AARP Distances Itself From Susan Collins Ad Touting The Group's Support

The group said it "did not authorize or participate in the production of the advertisement targeting House Speaker Sara Gideon."

AARP released a statement distancing itself from a political ad that touted the group’s past support for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

“We have a proud history of non-partisan voter engagement,” AARP Maine State Director Lori Parham said in the statement Wednesday, as first reported by News Center Maine. “Rather than attacking each other, we urge the candidates to make clear where they stand.”

The ad in question, released by Collins’ reelection campaign, boasted about two awards the Maine senator received from AARP in recent years.

It appears to have been put out in response to an ad released by Maine Momentum, a nonprofit organization with ties to Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, one of Collins’ Democratic challengers in the 2020 race.

“Sarah Gideon’s out-of-state allies are at it again, falsely attacking Susan Collins on Medicare,” the pro-Collins ad states. 

In its ad, Maine Momentum accused Collins of voting for a tax bill in 2017 that puts “Medicare and Social Security in jeopardy.” But The Washington Post’s Fact Checker suggested the ad contained “significant factual error and/or obvious contradictions.”

“This Medicare ad by Gideon’s allies received three Pinocchios from The Washington Post for being mostly false,” the pro-Collins ad states. “The truth? AARP has given Susan two major awards for protecting seniors. So who do you believe: AARP or dishonest dark money ads?”

The ad did not claim AARP endorsed Collins, but did draw backlash from some Twitter users who called on the group to speak out against the ad.

In her statement last week, Parham said AARP “did not authorize or participate in the production of the advertisement targeting” Gideon.

“AARP continually monitors the misuse of its name or logo in any political advertising,” the statement continued. “AARP does not endorse candidates and does not make contributions to political campaigns or candidates.”

Parham confirmed to HuffPost that Collins was the recipient of AARP’s “Champion Of The 50+” award in 2016 and the “Legislative Leadership” award in 2017. 

Asked for comment on why the group felt compelled to weigh in, a spokesman for AARP told HuffPost it’s “something that we do on a regular basis and it comes up in most election cycles.” He cited statements the group has made in response to political ads targeting Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.).

Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for Collins’ campaign, said the campaign would “continue to respond to false information” about the senator’s record.

“Sara Gideon’s dark money allies are trying to scare Maine seniors,” he told HuffPost in a statement. “The truth is AARP has honored Senator Collins several times for her extensive work to protect older Americans. It also supported her successful provision to avoid an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare.”

Collins is likely facing the toughest reelection bid of her career in 2020. Her votes in favor of President Donald Trump’s tax bill in 2017, Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court last year, and dozens of Trump’s conservative judicial nominees has drawn outrage from left-leaning Mainers and damaged her reputation as a moderate willing to cross party lines.

Winning Collins’ seat is key for Democrats hoping to flip the Republican-controlled Senate in 2020. She’s amassed several Democratic challengers, including Gideon, former Maine gubernatorial candidate Betsy Sweet and former Google executive Ross LaJeunesse.

Two independent candidates ― Tiffany Bond and Danielle VanHelsing ― and Maine Green Independent Party candidate Lisa Savage are also running.

This story has been updated with additional comment from AARP and Collins’ campaign.