WNED-TV was identified Friday as one of 29 public television stations across the country whose donor lists were shared with political organizations, mostly the Democratic National Committee.
Station officials said the names of only a few subscribers were shared, and the practice ended in 1996.
The practice has become a huge political issue in Washington, where critics of federal funding for public broadcasting have used the practice as a battering ram in their efforts to cut such funding.
The list-swapping with the Democratic Party provides more ammunition for conservative critics, who claim that public broadcasting already has a liberal bias in its documentaries and other programming.
"Anything that our viewers and listeners could reasonably interpret as a partisan act, we shouldn't engage in," Robert T. Coonrod, national president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, has said. "Regardless of the reality, it looks like you were doing something political."
Kenneth Konz, inspector general for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, released a study that showed station lists were rented or exchanged exclusively with Democratic organizations.
Officials with the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association, the parent organization of WNED-TV, were quick with their response to Friday's news:
* Only 1,394 WNED-TV members' names were put into a nationwide pool of names that was made available to the Democratic National Committee in 1995. Another 685 names were supplied in 1996.
Those figures represent less than 5 percent of WNED-TV's membership, and it's not clear whether all the names supplied by WNED ever reached the Democratic National Committee.
* The practice ended after 1996, and the station's current management team was not in place then.
* The local names were supplied to a list broker, who engineered the list swaps. For example, the list broker presumably gave the local names to the Democratic National Committee; in turn, the broker provided WNED-TV with local subscribers' names from magazines such as National Geographic, Time or Newsweek.
"We did not have a direct relationship with the Democratic National Committee or any individual," said Cherie Messore, WNED's membership director. "Our relationship has always been with the broker."
WNED's two public radio stations also were cited for the same practice, but officials with the Western New York Public Broadcasting Association adamantly denied that the radio stations were involved in any direct mail projects at the time.
Two months ago, WNED officials told The Buffalo News that their television and radio stations had not swapped donor names with any political parties. On Friday, those officials explained that they were not aware of the problem then, before they talked with the list broker who had engineered the swap.
WNED officials agreed that such list swapping with political parties creates at least the appearance of impropriety. "We're saying it was a problem, and we're going to fix it," said Donald Boswell, the association's president and chief executive officer.
Boswell and Ms. Messore cited the Western New York public broadcasting association's new list-exchange policy that says in part:
* The association will not exchange its membership file with any political party or politically motivated organization for any purpose.
* WNED members may request that their names not be included in any list exchange.
* Any third-party list broker must abide by WNED's policy.
"We rely so strongly on membership support, we cannot afford to compromise our trust with our members," Ms. Messore said.