Barney, the partisan?

Fund raising : GOP angry that public television stations traded lists with Democratic Party.

July 19, 1999

CONGRESSIONAL Republicans are about to begin another rampage against public broadcasting.

Because some public television stations -- WETA in Washington, D.C., and WGBH in Boston -- exchanged donor lists with the Democratic National Committee, Republicans are threatening to cut this year's funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Their outrage is a bit strange, since Republicans' practice of slashing federal grants is one of the reasons stations must exchange lists to raise money.

Since 1994, when the GOP gained control of Congress, public broadcasting has been one of their favorite targets. Since 1992, the CPB, the umbrella organization for the nation's approximately 1,000 public stations, has seen its federal appropriation drop by more than $50 million. By reducing the federal funding of public broadcasting, Congress forced public broadcasters to resort to other means to raise money to operate.

For most stations, the periodic on-air fund drive is the usual method to raise revenue. But those telethons represent just a fraction of their fund-raising efforts.

Local stations also solicit money from corporations. And like many other non-profit organizations, public broadcasters often rely on mail solicitations. Exchanging lists of donors and members is a long-accepted practice in direct mail.

Raising money, not partisanship, was the genesis of these exchanges with the DNC. The Washington and Boston stations likely thought that Democratic mailing lists might offer new sources to tap, and the Democrats may have thought they would find some new donors among WETA and WGBH members. (Maryland Public Television exchanges lists with other nonprofits but not with political or religious groups.)

If Congress doesn't want to increase funding for public broadcasting, then it will have to accept that stations will resort to other means -- including donor list exchanges -- to get what they need.

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