FEC almost united on Citizens United

June 10, 2010   •  By Allison Hayward
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It has all the ingredients of a cage match today. Competing drafts of the Citizens United Advisory Opinion were before the Commission. One reiterated the broad press exemption of precedent; the other read the exemption much more narrowly. And—the meeting started late! Could it be that there was serious interest at the FEC for trimming back the press exemption? Were there censors hanging in the shadows, ready to pounce on the distribution of a DVD … or *gasp* a BOOK?

Sadly, as least for those who value FEC open sessions as a source of entertainment, that showdown was not to be.

As it turned out, the commissioners showed a healthy respect for the limits the statute places on the scope of the law when news, commentary and editorializing is concerned. So you might wonder—why the second draft? 

The secret was soon out. Commissioner Steven Walther confessed to being the source of Draft B, calling it a “compromise.” He noted that, after the Citizens United decision, applying the press exemption had the effect of taking financial disclosure off the table. This, to him, was worrisome. Apparently it would be enough to know that Citizens United was the producer of a movie broadcast on television, but when that same movie is distributed via DVD the public should be able to learn the identity of the movie’s backers as well?

That would seem to be the effect of Draft B and, really—makes no sense.

UPDATE: Citizens United President David Bossie released the following statement:

“I am very pleased that a bipartisan majority of the Federal Election Commission saw fit to grant Citizens United the media exemption. As the producers of 14 feature-length and award-winning documentaries, Citizens United is an important voice that should not be subjected to extremely burdensome campaign finance regulations simply because we are not a multi-billion dollar media corporation. Since we produced our first film in 2004, all we have ever sought is to be treated by the government in the same manner as corporate film studios and other members of the establishment media, and I thank the Commission for leveling the playing field today.”

Allison Hayward

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