Past tense
Political list deals were done by many major stations

Originally published in Current, Aug. 2, 1999

All the major public TV stations in the top 10 markets exchanged mailing lists with, or rented lists from, political organizations, according to a poll by Current.

And the practices probably involve many smaller public TV and radio stations. The survey launched two weeks ago by CPB's inspector general will reveal how widespread the practices are, but both are limited to stations with the size and fundraising expertise to prospect for new members/donors through the mail--and that leaves out many radio stations.

Among six large freestanding public radio stations polled by Current, only Minnesota Public Radio had swapped lists with politicians, and just two others had rented lists from them.

Press reports have trampled and blurred the distinction between (1) swapping lists with politicos and (2) renting lists from them, though the distinction indicates why some have restricted their dealings.

While the distinction means little to the congressmen who regard both practices as inappropriately partisan, it apparently mattered to some stations, which had their own reason for refusing to swap or rent-out their own lists: to protect members' privacy.

In the top 10 markets, three of the major TV stations say they rejected swaps with political orgs, while nine or all ten had acquired lists from them or sold lists to them. When complete figures are in, renting political lists may turn out to be the more common practice.

All stations contacted now ban list deals with political groups, and some have had that policy for years. As for their past practice, staffers were still combing their records last week, but here's what spokespeople at the bigger stations said in releases or interviews, based on the info they had at hand:

Swapped and rented political lists: WNET in New York swapped with both parties seven times since 1997, rented from both sides. WHYY-FM/TV in Philadelphia swapped once with the DNC in 1994-95 and rented from both sides about 12 times. KQED-FM/TV in San Francisco swapped three times with the DNC in 1995 and rented out its own list twice to the DNC in 1996 and twice to the Barbara Boxer (D) Senate campaign in 1997. WETA-FM/TV in Washington swapped with both parties and rented from the DNC. KERA-FM/TV in Dallas swapped with the DNC more than once and rented from both sides. WTVS in Detroit swapped once with the DNC in 1995 and rented from the DNC four times in 1994-98. Minnesota Public Radio swapped with the DNC once in 1995 and rented Democratic lists four times in the last five years.

Rented but didn't swap political lists: KCET in Los Angeles rented lists from the DNC, the Bob Dole campaign, Republicans for Choice and possibly other groups. WTTW in Chicago has no records of swaps back to 1988, but has rented from the DNC. Georgia Public Broadcasting has no records before 1993, but since then there's no evidence of swaps; it did rent lists from the DNC and other Democratic lists in 1996. WNYC-FM in New York rented from the DNC for a test last spring. WBUR-FM in Boston rented twice from the DNC in the past year.

Swapped but may not have rented lists: At press time, WGBH-FM/TV in Boston did not have complete records indicating whether it had bought political lists, but it did swap lists with the DNC [earlier article].

Neither swapped nor rented political lists: KUSC-FM in Los Angeles has no records of dealing with political lists and has never even worked with a list broker. WBEZ-FM in Chicago hasn't swapped with politicos, but did with Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union. WAMU-FM in Washington doesn't solicit for members through the mail.

Several major stations established policies in the 1990s against list deals with political groups but found their staffs or brokers had approved them anyway. WNET and WGBH both fired their brokers and are working on their policies. All future list deals at WNET will have to be approved by the membership director of development v.p., according to the station.



To Current's home page

Related story: CPB sets new rules against stations' list dealings with political groups, July 1999.


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