NPR, PBS campaigns to keep federal funds called unlawful

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He also said stations that are counting on carefully worded appeals to get around the law are out of luck. The law is written broadly and applies to any effort “intended or designed to influence in any manner a member of Congress.”

Mr. von Spakovsky said the key question for stations will be whether they’re able to segregate federal money and show they did their lobbying purely with non-federal funds. He said he wasn’t sure how a station could do that when it comes to broadcast time.

“I can tell you that I still have a lot of contacts in the Justice Department and I actually talked to some people I know over there,” he said. “There’s no question in their mind this would apply to anybody who gets a federal grant.”

But Joseph Sandler, nonprofit and lobby regulation attorney with the law firm Sandler, Reiff & Young P.C., said it is possible to segregate spending so that federal dollars aren’t used for lobbying activities.

“They would have to be using funds they are receiving through private sponsorships for this purpose,” Mr. Sandler said.

The lobbying law has been on the books for nearly a century, but a 2008 Congressional Research Service report said nobody has been prosecuted under it. The law carries no criminal penalties, but does allow for a fine.

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