DeMint Takes Aim at Axing CPB One More Time

Sen. James DeMint (R-S.C.) is collecting colleague signatures on a letter asking Senate Appropriations Committee and Education Subcommittee leaders to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). That is according to a source familiar with the letter, as well as a copy posted online by a group critical of CPB.

DeMint is a veteran critic of CPB funding, fighting to defund the organization in the last Congress and penning op eds in opposition to the government funds, which supply about 15% of noncommercial station budgets.

According to a copy of the letter, DeMint, as well as an identical one from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.), who is making the pitch to House appropriations and education leadership, they argue that the $445 million in advance appropriation that CPB is seeking for 2015 is an "enormous" sum. They say that is particularly the case given that President Obama's 2010 deficit reduction commission recommended zeroing out funding, something they heartily endorse.

"As you know, our country is more than $15 trillion in debt," they write. "We simply cannot afford to continue funding all of the programs that we have in the past."

They contend that though there are hard budget-cutting choices ahead, axing CPB should not be one of them, particularly since the FY2013 appropriations bill that forward funds CPB is not finished yet. CPB's forward funding was adopted to try to insulate it from political mood swings, but it has taken plenty of political fire nonetheless.

CPB forward funding was assailed in the last appropriations bill, but survived. But that bill also instructed CPB to report back to Congress by June 20 of this year on finding alternative funding sources. DeMint and Lamborn say they are looking forward to hearing how public media can use private funding "in the near future, as the overwhelming majority of their competitors in the media marketplace already do."

One way might be for them to tap into the hundreds of millions of dollars in election campaign ad spending from campaigns and PACs. Last month, a federal appeals court ruled that noncommercial stations can accept political advertising, which puts millions in the coffers of those marketplace competitors.

One group reveling in the call for defunding CPB was the Media Research Council headed by conservative media critic Brent Bozell, which has its own "defund NPR and CPB" campaign and has posted the letters there.

"PBS and NPR have both consistently pushed a wildly liberal agenda through their ‘news' programming," said Bozell in a statement. "[T]oday consumers have an endless array of news and entertainment choices and it's the height of fiscal irresponsibility to shovel hundreds of millions of dollars at this utterly outdated concept."

DeMint and Coburn co-sponsored a bill in March of last year to defund public radio and TV.

Republicans periodically target CPB for what they see as its left-leaning programming bias. Last time around, DeMint invoked NPR's $1.8 million grant from the liberal financier George Soros' Open Society Foundation.

At that time, PBS released a study showing that a majority of Republicans opposed zeroing out funding.

According to the source, Senators who have already signed on to the DeMint letter include Republicans Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Jeff Sessions of Alabama, John Cornwyn of Texas and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.