On Wednesday, September 9th , the Supreme Court reheard arguments in the case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (see our coverage of this case here and here). The issues addressed in the rehearing were much broader than the question whether Hillary: The Movie, a 90-minute documentary attacking Hilary Clinton, may be considered electioneering communication.
As Marjorie Heins of the Free Expression Policy Project explains, Citizens United is really about
[w]hether the well-established legal principle that corporations and unions can’t spend directly on federal political campaigns should be scrapped…The law’s purpose is to prevent the corruption that ensues when elected officials are directly beholden to corporations or unions. Of course, it isn’t perfect, as we know: corporations and unions can and do set up wealthy PACs, and individual corporate officers can contribute to whatever candidate they like. But the difficulty of campaign finance regulation isn’t a reason to scrap it entirely, and return to a system of blatant political corruption in which the biggest financers drown out everyone else’s speech and essentially get to control the outcome of elections… This case presents an attractive set of facts because the movie, although clearly directly at defeating Hillary, comes in the form of a documentary. The danger is that right-wingers on the Supreme Court will use these facts – and the false argument that book-regulation will be next – to overturn basic principles of fairness that have long governed federal elections. The free expression community needs to have a genuine debate about these issues, not rely on easy and deceptive platitudes.
The Free Expression Policy Project’s summary of campaign finance laws can be found here. Tony Mauro of the First Amendment Center provides a summary of the rehearing here. And we welcome the start of a genuine debate about these issues in the comments section.