Legal Center & Democracy 21 File Comments with FEC on Citizens United Request for Media Exemption from Donor Disclosure
Today the Campaign Legal Center, together with Democracy 21, filed comments with the Federal Election Commission regarding the Commission's two alternative draft responses to an advisory opinion request by Citizens United seeking the "media exemption" from federal campaign finance disclosure laws for its "documentary" filmmaking (Draft Advisory Opinions 2010-08). The Commission is scheduled to consider this matter at its meeting tomorrow, June 10.
The federal law "media exemption" applies to a "press entity" not owned or controlled by a political committee or candidate that is acting in its "legitimate press function" by distributing a news story, commentary or editorial through the facilities of a broadcasting station.
Both draft opinions wrongly conclude that Citizens United is a "press entity" entitled, as such, to exemption from federal campaign finance disclosure requirements for all ("Draft A") or some ("Draft B") of its proposed activities.
The Supreme Court in its recent decision in Citizens United v. FEC upheld federal law disclosure requirements as applied to Citizens United by an 8-1 vote. The Court rejected Citizens United's claim "that Hillary is just 'a documentary film that examines certain historical events." Instead, the Court said the group's movie "in essence, is a feature-length negative advertisement that urges viewers to vote against Senator Clinton for President." Now, in the immediate wake of the Citizens United decision, with no change in its activities, Citizens United attempts to re-cast itself from an advocacy organization into a "press entity" in order to seek an exemption from the same disclosure requirements that the Court held can and do apply to it.
As we make clear in the comments we filed today, Citizens United is not a "press entity" but rather is, as it describes itself, an advocacy organization. Accordingly, its activities do not qualify for the media exemption.
If the Commission determines that a classic advocacy organization like Citizens United acquires the protections of the media exemption merely by producing a handful of films in furtherance of its advocacy mission, the unbounded nature of that determination will open the door for any and all advocacy groups to obtain an exemption from the campaign finance laws. To do so would seriously undermine the campaign finance laws, in direct contravention of the Commission's obligation to protect the integrity and efficacy of the laws it is charged with administering.