CPB Inspector General Kenneth A. Konz says he will open an inquiry into whether public TV and radio stations used federal funds to urge listeners and viewers to lobby Congress in response to last summer’s proposed funding cuts.The investigation, first reported by Bloomberg News, was requested in August by 18 Republican lawmakers led by Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.), Konz told Current. The request was in response to stations’ successful campaign in June to rally opposition to $100 million in proposed cuts to CPB’s $400 million appropriation for fiscal 2006.
The House restored the full appropriation after pubcasting fans decried the proposed cuts in calls to legislators. Final 2006 budget figures are still pending.
Federal law prohibits stations from using CPB funds to lobby Congress. Konz, fresh off a big investigation, said he will soon send accounting surveys to all stations receiving CPB grants to identify which funds were used to pay for the political efforts. He also may visit some stations.
NPR and APTS sources were confident that stations used the proper funds for their web alerts, public service announcements and other outreach.
“The stations are well aware of the rules regarding use of CPB money … and we’re confident that in efforts undertaken last summer, they continued to honor the letter and spirit of the law,” said NPR spokeswoman Andi Sporkin.
Public TV stations also used nonfederal resources to inform viewers about the cuts, said APTS President John Lawson. Brown-Waite’s charges amount to an effort to silence stations’ First Amendment rights, Lawson said.
Konz acknowledged that the lawmakers’ request may be a political counterstrike. Last summer, Brown-Waite was one of the House’s most vocal critics of federal funding for pubcasting. Nevertheless, “they are correct that if any CPB funds were used for this purpose, it would be a potential violation of law,” he said.
He hopes to complete his report by next spring.