House GOP leader wants to shut down NPR over an email

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House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik wants to defund National Public Radio and take away its tax-exempt status.

A top House Republican is demanding that National Public Radio lose both its public funding and its tax-exempt status. Her reasoning: A former staffer for New York NPR affiliate North Country Public Radio sent an inappropriately political email.

"DEFUND NPR," House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik tweeted on Monday.

In a linked press release, the New York Republican called for defunding the public radio network and revoking its 501(c)(3) charitable tax status. "Taxpayer dollars should no longer fund New York Democrats' political agenda," Stefanik argued. "NCPR's activity is illegal, and I'm taking action, so North Country residents' hard-earned incomes are not advancing partisan initiatives."

North Country Public Radio, based at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, serves the Adirondack region in northern New York state as well as bordering parts of Vermont, Ontario, and Quebec. It is located in New York's 21st Congressional District, which Stefanik represents.

Stefanik spelled out the specifics of her complaint in a letter to the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig.

"We are writing today with a serious concern that a National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate has been using a taxpayer-funded email account to illegally campaign for New York Democrats," she wrote in a letter only she signed. "Recently, Martha Foley, the former News and Public Affairs Director at North Country Public Radio (NCPR), used her NCPR email address to campaign on behalf of local Democrats" and back ballot initiatives. "This is an unacceptable and illegal use of taxpayer funds ... It is also grounds for revocation of NPR's tax-exempt status."

Her cited source for the allegation was a Nov. 2 story on the right-wing site Breitbart about Stefanik's own efforts to expose the violation.

According to reporting in the Times Union of Albany, Foley had retired in 2019 but was allowed to keep her NCPR email account. After the Breitbart report, she admitted that she had inappropriately used that address to support Democratic candidates for town offices in Canton, including herself in a race for reelection to the Canton Town Council that she subsequently lost, and that doing so was "careless." A spokesperson for NCPR told the paper it had not been involved and had told Foley to "cease the practice immediately."

In a story reported outside of NCPR and broadcast by the station on Nov. 5, NCPR station manager Mitch Teich said:

It would be wrong regardless of what Martha's political stripes were. Certainly that it attracts the ire of people who feel like public radio is already skewed in one direction or another, but the way I battle it as a public radio station is to point out that we don't approve of it either.

North Country Public Radio has since changed its policy and will no longer allow former employees to continue to use NCPR email addresses.

But rather than accept that one former employee of an NPR affiliate had made a mistake that was quickly addressed, Stefanik is using it as an excuse to move against the entire network. NPR has hundreds of independent affiliated stations around the country and provides news and entertainment to tens of millions of listeners each week.

House Republicans have been trying for more than a decade to defund NPR entirely. Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado has sponsored bills that would defund NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in most sessions of Congress he has participated in since he was elected to the House in 2006, claiming in 2017, "This is not about the ideology of NPR executives ... but whether in this age of trillion-dollar deficits, taxpayers should subsidize a non-essential entity."

But while Stefanik now wants a zero-tolerance policy on political activity by public radio employees, she has fiercely defended former President Donald Trump, even after his administration was found to have routinely ignored the Hatch Act, the 82-year-old federal law prohibiting partisan political activities by most executive branch employees while on the job.

A Nov. 9 report by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found that at least 11 senior Trump administration officials went unpunished for violations of the Hatch Act prior to the 2020 election.

A spokesperson for Stefanik did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story, but the representative has yet to publicly condemn Trump or his administration for those violations.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.