Court to decide anti-Hillary Clinton movie case

November 17, 2008

By James Vicini

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed on Friday to rule on a new challenge to the federal campaign finance law by a conservative group that wants to broadcast and promote a movie critical of Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton.

The group, Citizens United, released the 90-minute documentary film "Hillary: The Movie" in January when the New York senator was running for president.

The legal battle over the film is continuing even though she long ago ended her presidential campaign. Clinton this week emerged as a candidate for secretary of state or another senior job in President-elect Barack Obama's administration.

Citizens United released the movie to theaters and for store sales on DVD. The group also planned to broadcast the movie on cable television video on-demand, and to pay the fee for viewers to be able to see the movie.

But that was rejected by a federal court which said under the campaign finance law the group had to disclose its donors and include a disclaimer to run its advertisements promoting the movie.

The federal court also ruled the movie clearly was intended to influence people to vote against Clinton and thus was covered by the law's ban on airing ads or "electioneering communications" right before an election.

The Justice Department, arguing on behalf of the Federal Election Commission, urged the court to uphold the lower court ruling.

Citizens United also prepared a similar critical film about Obama titled "Hype: The Obama Effect," and it also was released during the campaign.

The campaign finance law at issue in the case was named after Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, and Sen. Russell Feingold, a Democrat from Wisconsin.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case at the end of February, with a decision expected by the end of June.