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Name and title: Joan Wise, general counsel Age: “I’m about to turn 65 this summer – and I’m not shy about that!” Lobbying giant: AARP was founded in 1958 by educator Ethel Percy Andrus, but had its roots in an older organization, the National Retired Teachers Association, which Andrus launched in 1947 after discovering that a retired colleague was living in a chicken coop. The focus was on economic security, including health insurance. Formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons, the private association shortened its name in 1999 in recognition that its members need not be retired. Anyone aged 50 or older is welcome. AARP is tax-exempt under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, Wise said; contributions from members are not tax-deductible, but the status allows the organization to lobby. Its affiliated AARP Foundation is a Section 501(c)(3) charitable organization. A taxable subsidiary, AARP Services Inc., manages relations with third-party endorsed providers of the member services. “AARP,” Wise said, “continues to follow Dr. Andrus’ guiding principles: collective voice, collective purchasing power, and the collective ability to do good and give back through service. We continue to follow the motto she created for AARP, ‘To serve, not to be served.’ “ AARP has some 2,000 employees and 53 offices in the states. Daily duties: “Is there a typical day? Probably not,” Wise said. “Certainly not a typical week. We constantly get novel legal issues, and I think that is one of the best things about the job. The other is working for a mission-driven organization. As in-house counsel, you do get involved in information, education, advocacy, but also in community service and member services. Our office gets involved in almost all aspects of the organization.” Wise and her team deal with state and federal compliance and regulatory issues, “and then all of the governance issues among the various boards of directors.” The team serves as the association’s ethics and privacy office. “We also are the largest nonprofit mailer, so we have a lot of postal issues,” she said. “I think with all of these issues, we employ the concept of preventative law. By being in-house we can get in on the ground floor of many projects.” She enjoys the challenge of “balancing the legal issues and business needs in a very fast-paced place, a complex, ever-growing organization, fitting all of the pieces of the puzzle together, resulting in a good outcome for the members,” Wise said. Legal team and outside counsel: Wise works with 10 lawyers and five support staff. Additionally, the AARP Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charity, employs 13 to 15 litigators. “Because they litigate on behalf of AARP, my office needs to say yes or no about whether we are going to litigate a particular issue.” The operation has grown steadily over the past decade as Wise brought more work in-house. Four associate general counsel oversee practice groups involving transactional issues and the Internet; intellectual property and misuse; brand issues, political issues and compliance; and human resources. If Wise needs outside help for litigation, she turns to Epstein Becker & Green in New York or McDermott, Will & Emery. Intellectual property issues go to McDermott or Dow, Lohnes & Albertson in Washington. Complex tax issues go to Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman or Foley & Lardner. Clout: “We are a nonpartisan organization of 36 million members,” Wise said. “For AARP, I firmly believe it’s the issues that are important, not any particular candidate or political party. We don’t endorse candidates and we don’t have a PAC, and we don’t make contributions to campaigns.” She notes that the organization annoyed Democrats through its work on behalf of the Medicare prescription drug plan, and Republicans through its work to defeat President Bush’s efforts to privatize Social Security. Andrus’ original inspiration remains a focus. “Dr. Andrus believed we have a collective obligation to give back through community service programs. Our affiliated charity, the AARP Foundation, runs the largest free, volunteer-run tax-assistance program and the most successful nationally administered senior job-training program. AARP operates the nation’s first and largest driver-safety program in the nation for drivers 50 and over.” Looking ahead, “our goal is to take Dr. Andrus’ vision to the next level. She believed in providing effective advocacy on aging issues, education and information that promote dignity and purpose in one’s life, and community service programs. For example, our advocacy efforts demonstrate the power of a group voice, whether it is our work to lower the cost of prescription drugs through programs like Medicare’s new prescription-drug benefit, or Social Security reform, where we were successful in educating people about the pitfalls of diverting Social Security funds to create private accounts.” Route to present position: Wise joined AARP as an attorney in 1987 and held increasingly responsible positions, serving as associate general counsel before assuming her current post in April 1999. She handled regulatory, nonprofit and intellectual property issues, and advised and trained staff on compliance and other legal matters. Earlier, she was a staff attorney in the attorney general’s office in Maryland, including a stint as assistant attorney general for consumer protection. Personal: “A true local,” Wise grew up in Washington and except for a sojourn in California has lived there for most of her life. The former teacher entered the Georgetown University Law Center at age 40; before gaining her J.D. she helped found Women in Law as a Second Career. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in education from George Washington University and a master’s in remedial reading from the University of California. Last book: A Long Way from Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland, by Tom Brokaw.

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