March 16, 2011

House Starts New Effort to Kill NPR Aid

The House of Representatives plans to vote this week on new legislation that would pull all federal money from NPR and bar public radio stations from using federal funds to pay dues or buy radio programs from any source.

The measure, introduced by Rep. Doug Lamborn, Republican of Colorado, follows negative publicity about a video sting operation that showed NPR's top fund raiser making disparaging remarks about conservatives and saying the public broadcaster would be better off in the long run without federal money.

The House Rules Committee plans to hold an emergency meeting this afternoon to clear the bill for a vote.

The Republican-led House voted to stop giving any money to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides grants to public radio and television broadcasters, in a 2011 spending bill it adopted last month.

However, the Senate defeated that bill, and the two sides are still wrangling over how to pay for federal government operations through the end of the fiscal year that ends on September 30.

Catherine Mortensen, a spokeswoman for Mr. Lamborn—who has introduced several previous bills to cut federal spending on public broadcasting—said the new legislation would prevent public radio stations from using federal money to pay for any programs, whether  from NPR or other producers like Public Radio and American Public Media. "The intent is that taxpayers should not subsidize programming from whatever source," she said.

NPR receives only a small percentage of its income in direct federal spending. However, it gets a substantial portion from selling programs and collecting dues from member stations.

Some small rural stations rely on federal money for a big chunk of their budgets, for example in the neighborhood of 30 percent, and would be hit hard if they could not use it to buy programs, said Doug Eichten, president of DEI, an organization that provides fund raising and marketing services to public radio stations.

Representative Lamborn said in a statement that his bill would allow radio stations to use federal money for administrative expenses to cover daily operations.

If the new legislation passes, it could face an uphill battle in the Democratic-led Senate, although some Republicans in that chamber have also pushed to cut NPR aid. The White House has rejected calls to eliminate spending on NPR or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, calling them "worthwhile and important priorities."

Editor's Note: Suzanne Perry was communications director for Minnesota Public
Radio from 2002 to 2004.