The Lonely Centrist

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Wednesday, September 07, 2005

CFR Just Keeps Growing More Incoherent

Campaign Finance Reform just keeps growing more incoherent.

Last year, a group called Citizens United asked the Federal Election Commission for an Advisory Opinion. They wanted to publish and distribute a book, "The Many Faces of John Kerry, Why This Massachusetts Liberal Is Wrong for America," and produce and air on TV an anti-Michael Moore movie eventually titled "Celsius 41.11: The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11," and they wanted to know, among other things, if their activities would be protected under the "press exemption," to federal campaign finance law. This exemption exempts "any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication" from federal campaign finance law. (Without this exemption, pretty much every TV and radio station, newspaper or current events magazine or book publisher would be in constant violation of the law).

The FEC held in Advisory Opinion 2004-30 that Citizens United was not entitled to the exemption, because it was not a "press entity." In support of this conclusion the FEC noted that Citizens United had "only" produced two movie documentaries since its founding in 1988.

Well, Citizens United is now sending out invitations to the "World Premiere" of its latest feature length documentary movie, "Broken Promises: The United Nations at 60." So it has now produced two movies in under one year. My guess is that many independent filmmakers fall short of that pace. Indeed, it is two more movies than Michael Moore has produced in the 12 months, yet the FEC appears ready to give Moore the press exemption, because "these respondents are in the business of making, promoting, and distributing films." (p. 15). (What the Commission actually did, we might note, was dodge the issue by holding that Moore was entitled to a "commercial exemption." Unfortunately, the statute contains no such exemption. And what was Moore's "commerce?" Why, making movies, i.e. being press. In any case, the Commission's decision effectively gave Moore the press exemption while dodging the press exemption issue).

Does this make any sense? Does it smack of a press licensing scheme? Does producing two movies in a year put Citizens United in the business of making movies? If not, how many do they have to produce? If so, is it really true that you have to make some movies (illegally?) before you can claim the press exemption and make political movies legally? Increasingly, campaign finance reform is leading down a blind alley.

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