Politics & Policy

Public Radio’s Political Sympathies

The boards of directors that control NPR are overwhelmingly liberal.

On Sunday, October 17, the New York Times reported that NPR had accepted a $1.8 million grant from George Soros’s left-leaning Open Society Institute. To some, it appeared to be a watershed, especially when Pres. Vivian Schiller went on in short order to fire and insult Juan Williams. But in fact, in his politics, Soros isn’t that different from the people who already control and raise money for NPR.

I investigated the political sympathies of every power player on two boards of directors: that of NPR itself, and that of the NPR Foundation, which controls the flow of private money from donors to NPR. I obtained lists of board members from guidestar.com, a website that keeps up-to-date information on non-profits, as NPR was not eager to provide information about the Foundation. I found information about their political sympathies on campaignmoney.com, voterfactory.com, city-data.com, the Huffington Post’s Fundrace blog, Google, and opensecrets.com. The results are presented here. And they are telling.

I found information about all but seven of the 55 board members (50 directors plus the five “public” members of the NPR board). Of these 48 members, nearly all have demonstrably liberal political sympathies, with heavy support for the Democratic party, pro-abortion-rights groups, and environmental activism in particular.

The governance structure of NPR has Vivian Schiller, president and CEO, at the top, with the chairman of the NPR Foundation, Antoine van Agtmael, serving on the NPR board as her second-in-command. Ten managers of NPR’s member stations serve on the board in rotating three-year terms (as these are local journalists, not power players, I left them off this list). The rest of the seats on the 16-member NPR board are filled by “five prominent members of the public selected by the board and confirmed by NPR member stations” — who are supposed to represent the public, according to NPR. The NPR board “sets the policies and overall direction for NPR management, monitors NPR’s performance, and provides financial oversight,” also according to NPR.

Then, there’s the NPR Foundation. Its board consists 50 members plus a chairman — the members being big donors, fundraisers, and others. Anna Christopher, spokeswoman for NPR, says “the Foundation Board of Trustees has no role in programming, news, or the governance of NPR.” But the Foundation chairman has a seat on NPR board of governors, and the Foundation’s control of funds gives them indirect power at the very least. Requests to NPRfor basic information about how the NPR Foundation handles donations went unanswered.

Why would almost all these people be liberal Democrats? Anna Christopher says, “We don’t have a litmus test for our board members or for our Foundation trustees.” De jure, that’s surely true: Presumably, NPR doesn’t have an official policy that board members must be liberal. But de facto, they have sure done a good job making their boards members indistinguishable from that of an openly partisan organization.

There are a few exceptions to the rule of unadulterated liberalism among NPR and Foundation board members. Carol A. Cartwright, a public member of the NPR board, carefully split her donations between Republicans and Democrats in 2004 and 2006. Joseph McNay, who serves on the Foundation board, also donates in a bipartisan manner. Foundation board member Lee Rolfe, though usually politically uninvolved, once donated $1,000 to Friends for Mike McGavick (a Seattle Republican). Henry E. Catto, a Foundation board member, has donated only to John McCain — though he donated to help McCain beat Tea Party insurgent J. D. Hayworth in 2010, not to help him against Obama in 2008. Finally, there’s James R. Hedges IV, a Foundation board member, who has split his sparse political donations evenly between George W. Bush and Democrat Bill Bradley. And there, the list of members with Republican or bi-partisan leanings ends.

All the others are overwhelmingly, and most of them are exclusively, Democratic and liberal. NPR Foundation chairman Antoine W. Van Agtmale doubles up as a trustee at the center-left Brookings Institution. NPR public board member Lyle Logan was one of Barack Obama’s major donors as early as 2000 — before it was cool.

The Foundation’s board members have been incredibly supportive of liberal causes. Judy Z. Steinberg has given about $40,000 to Democrats and EMILY’s List (a pro-abortion-rights group) since 2007. Jane Katcher has given Democrats and EMILY’s List more than $64,000 over the past decade. Roselyn Swig has already made more than 40 separate political donations this year, amounting to over $93,000 total. She donated over $100,000 to Democrats and pro-abortion-rights groups in both 2008 and 2006. Sukey Garcetti is director of the Roth Family Foundation, an organization whose “mission is commitment to progressive social change.” Bryan Traubert is one of Barack Obama’s very own White House Fellows and husband of Penny Pritzker, who was the national finance chair of Obama’s presidential campaign. The couple hosted a fundraising dinner for Barack Obama in 2008, with a $28,500 price of admission, leading to a Wall Street Journal profile, “Money Maven: Billionaire raises record amounts of cash for Obama.”

The point of compiling this information is not to criticize the members themselves — they are welcome to their political views, obviously. The scandal is the uniformity of the institution as a whole. Its board members also sit on the boards of explicitly progressive advocacy groups, and have given millions of dollars to Democrats and liberal PACs — at the same time that they control the country’s “public” radio network.

– Matthew Shaffer is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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