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They also “make sure our messages are appropriate, so we do not tell people what they should think, we just let them know that this is happening in Congress, you can let your representatives in Congress know however you feel,” she said. “It really should be your choice because it is your tax dollars.”

At WETA television and radio in Arlington, Va., Mary Stewart, vice president of external affairs, said employees are “very conscious of the accounting” involved in keeping federal grants and private donations separate — going as far as pegging “a value to our air time and a value to our staff time” to make sure they are billed appropriately.

As a result, the station says it has always come out clean on internal and CPB audits.

“We have faced federal funding challenges in the past and we are very confident in the types of messaging we are using and have used to inform our public, our members and our viewers of their right to contact their elected officials,” WETA spokeswoman Kate Kelly said.

Drawing lines

Both WGBH and WETA said their appeals never told their audiences which way to lobby Congress, but only to call and let their feelings be known.

Many other stations drew a similar line, but some went further by urging their audience to take a stand.

WQED in Pittsburgh urges its website surfers to “Stop the Senate From Cutting Funding for Public Broadcasting and WQED!”

The station also is airing a television advertisement featuring throwback footage from a 1969 Senate hearing in which Fred Rogers, the host of the popular children’s show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” testifies before Congress in defense of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s proposed $20 million grant for the newly formed CPB, an amount that President Nixon wanted sliced in half.

In the ad, Rogers says he is “concerned about what’s being delivered to our children in this country” and that in his show “we deal with such things as the inner drama of childhood.”

“We don’t have to bop someone over the head to make drama on the screen,” he tells them. “We deal with such things as getting a haircut, or the feelings about brothers and sisters and the kind of anger that arises in simple family situations.”

The video then cuts to another part of his testimony, where he states, “I give an expression of care every day to each child to help him realize he is unique. I end this program by saying you’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There is no person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.”

WQED did not respond to three telephone calls seeking comment.

In addition to the nonprofit law, other legal scholars said the stations could run afoul of a law that prohibits recipients of taxpayer money from using it to influence the government.

Hans A. von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department lawyer, said the law in question used to apply only to federal employees but under a 2002 change it now covers all organizations that receive federal money.

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