October 21, 2010

October 21, 2010 | Commentary on Political Thought

NPR Political Donations Raise Questions

At least six people self-identifying themselves as National Public Radio employees have collectively given $2,560 to Democrats in the past five years, according to campaign finance data.

NPR’s own internal policy prohibits political contributions, but the network maintains that none of the six employees were required to abide by the ethical guidelines.

Publicly available data on OpenSecrets.org reveals a total of 10 contributions from six employees, all of whom listed “National Public Radio” or “NPR” as their employer. One employee made multiple donations.

NPR instituted its ethics policy in 2004, according to NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard. On the issue of political donations, it states, “Since contributions to candidates are part of the public record, NPR journalists may not contribute to political campaigns, as doing so would call into question a journalist's impartiality.”

In a memo to her staff on Oct. 13, Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss reiterated the ethics policy. Chief executive Vivian Schiller sent a follow-up memo 12 minutes later making clear the policy applies to multiple divisions at the taxpayer-funded radio network.

“In addition to News,” Schiller wrote, “the other divisions that are required to abide by the NPR News Ethics policy are digital, programming/AIR, legal and communications.”

NPR spokeswoman Anna Christopher said the policy wasn’t applicable to any of the employees who made political contributions. She said Giselle Foss, who is listed as an NPR librarian, hasn’t worked there since 2000. Nichole Andrews-Shellman was a temporary employee who stopped working at NRP near the time of her donation. The status of two others, Millicent Jefferson and Lamar Marchese, was unclear. They might work for an independent public radio station or NPR member station. NPR has 280 member stations, which are not subject to the ethics guidelines.

Cary Gilbert, who gave $250 to then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, works in NPR’s sponsorship department, which isn’t subject to the policy. Theo Mondle is an NPR engineer, but when he made five donations totalling $1,050 to then-Sen. Hillary Clinton, engineering wasn’t part of the news operation.

All of the donations supported Democrats. Besides Obama and Clinton, two other contributions supported Democrat Paul Aronsohn, who lost his race against Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) in 2006, and Democrat John William Carter, who unsuccessfully challenged Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) the same year. No NPR employee donated money to Republicans.

National Public Radio isn’t the only media outlet whose employees are politically active. The Washington Examiner reported in August that ABC, CBS and NBC employees gave more than $1 million to Democrats in the 2008 election cycle.

Rob Bluey directs the Center for Media and Public Policy, an investigative journalism operation at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Robert B. Bluey Vice President, Publishing and Editor in Chief
The Daily Signal

First appeared in The Examiner