Romney targets PBS, NEA coin

G.O.P. candidate says he'd axe federal funding if elected

Outlining a number of areas in which he would cut from the federal budget, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Fortune magazine that he would eliminate federal funding for PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Federal support for public broadcasting and the arts has long been a target of conservatives, and earlier in the campaign Romney said that such funding could be made up for via private support.

Although coin for the arts and public broadcasting is not at the center of campaign debate, it has special resonance in the entertainment industry, where activists have long advocated for continued support as a way to seed programs and projects that would not otherwise get funding elsewhere.

For example, attorney Bruce Ramer, a longtime supporter of GOP candidates who gave to Romney’s campaign in December, also is chairman of the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, which distributes the $445 million federal outlay to public broadcasting entities. As funding to the CPB has been threatened in the past — as it was during the bitter budget battle last year — Ramer has quietly met with Republican lawmakers, sources say.

Although PBS and the NEA have been targets on the right on the charge that they harbor a political agenda, Romney told Fortune that they needed to show that they could rely on private support.

“Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS, I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases,” Romney told the mag. “But I just think they have to stand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.”

But the CPB challenged that notion in a report it released in June that was done by Booz & Co. It concluded that “the loss of federal funding will mean the end of public broadcasting.”

“Federal money is the foundation upon which stations build and raise, on average, at least six times the amount they receive from the federal government,” the report stated. “This nonfederal money lets CPB know that stations are receiving a positive report card from the communities they serve.”

Patrick Butler, president and CEO of the Assn. of Public Television stations, said he has been talking to Romney’s policy staff to make the case for federal funding, citing the relatively small outlay compared to the federal budget, among other points. “We obviously haven’t made the sale yet,” he said in response to Romney’s latest statement.

Butler added that the stations have an “education challenge” in making the case of “what we do and what we cost” to Romney, who he noted was governor of Massachusetts, which does not provide state funding to public broadcasting. But he said that they will be enlisting Republicans who sit on boards of public broadcasting entities across the country to help them make their case during the election season.

“What we don’t want is for public broadcasting to be a partisan issue,” he said.

Likewise, Americans for the Arts, which advocates for federal arts funding, is planning forums at the Republican and Democratic conventions, with former Arkansas Mike Huckabee hosting their event in Tampa and former Secretary of Education Robert Riley hosting in Charlotte.

Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, said Romney has a “misunderstanding” of how NEA funding works, in that the funding helps stimulate state and local arts councils as well as seed the growth of small businesses. “We know from 45 years of history that the great benefit of the American system, which is a very conservative system of support, is not the subsidy but the leverage power,” he said.