Pandering for Profit: The Transformation of Health Charities to Lobbyists

56 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2011

See all articles by James T. Bennett

James T. Bennett

George Mason University - Department of Economics

Date Written: December 14, 2011


This study explores the metamorphosis of three major voluntary health agencies — American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and American Lung Association — from charities supported primary by donations into lobbying organizations seeking taxpayers’ funds and grants from commercial enterprises in exchange for supporting private or political initiatives only peripherally related to their charitable missions. Prior to the 1980s, lobbying was all but nonexistent, limited to seeking increased funding for disease research. Fearing loss of tax-exempt status, health charities largely avoided political advocacy. The AIDS movement revealed that vast sums could be acquired from government by intense lobbying, and this advocacy evidently did not threaten tax-exempt status. All three of these charities copied the AIDS movement and targeted tobacco tax revenues at the state level. The American Lung Association, in particular, has acted as a public relations flack for both government agencies and corporations — selling its charitable reputation as a selfless entity concerned only with public health for self-interested purposes. The implications of this transition for both the charities themselves and the public interest are analyzed and discussed.

Suggested Citation

Bennett, James T., Pandering for Profit: The Transformation of Health Charities to Lobbyists (December 14, 2011). GMU Working Paper in Economics No. 11-54, Available at SSRN: or

James T. Bennett (Contact Author)

George Mason University - Department of Economics ( email )

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