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House Bill Prevents Public Broadcasters, Political Groups to Exchange Lists

Legislation that would prohibit public broadcasting stations from sharing their donor lists with political groups was added to a bill regulating the satellite-TV industry this week and passed the House 411-8 last night.

Rep. W.J. Billy Tauzin, R-LA, who earlier this year had pledged to introduce such legislation this fall, added the public-broadcasting restrictions to the conference report on the bill, which allows satellite-TV providers to supply viewers with local broadcasting channels.

Ken Johnson, a spokesman for Tauzin’s office, said the bill passed last night after legislators from both the House and Senate hammered out their differences on it late Monday night. He said it also was expected to pass the Senate this week or next.

Tauzin, who is chairman of the telecommunications subcommittee of the House Commerce Committee, had said this summer that he would introduce legislation prohibiting public broadcasting stations from sharing their donor lists with political organizations after several stations were found to have been engaging in this practice.

An investigation by the Inspector General for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Washington, which is responsible for distributing federal funds to public stations, found that about 30 of the nation’s 349 public stations had rented or exchanged lists with political organizations.

“To those who say that only 10 percent of public stations exchanged lists with political organizations, we say that is 10 percent too many,” Johnson told DM News in September.

Several stations have since implemented stricter list-rental policies, including WGBH-TV, Boston, which touched off the investigation when it was found to have exchanged lists with a Democratic fundraising group.

Jeanne Hopkins, vice president of corporate communications for the station, said WGBH no longer makes its list available for rental, although it does exchange it with lists from other local nonprofit organizations, provided they do not raise funds for political purposes. The station, which terminated its list broker after the political list exchanges were made public, still rents consumer lists from such sources as catalogs, she said.

The CPB, meanwhile, has since adopted new guidelines under which stations rent or exchange lists, prohibiting them from exchanging or renting names with political groups and requiring that they give their donors the opportunity to opt out of having their names made available for rental.

Separate legislation preventing public stations from receiving grant money if they exchange lists with political groups was introduced earlier this year as part of a Senate appropriations bill, S.1650, which was vetoed by President Clinton last week.


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