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‘Hillary’ Movie Brings Campaign Finance Law to High Court

The Supreme Court heard arguments in a case Tuesday centering on whether a documentary on Hillary Clinton should be classified as a political ad, making it subject to campaign finance laws. The National Law Journal's Marcia Coyle describes the case and its arguments.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Next, an anti-Hillary Clinton movie makes its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Gwen Ifill has that story.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    When is a movie just a movie and when is it actually a campaign ad? That's the question the justices are grappling with in the latest challenge to a major campaign finance law.

    Here to walk us through the case, as always, is Marcia Coyle of the National Law Journal.

    Welcome, Marcia.

  • MARCIA COYLE, National Law Journal:

    Thank you, Gwen.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    So this latest challenge to the McCain — there have been a lot of challenges to the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Yes.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    Why is this one different?

  • MARCIA COYLE:

    Citizens United is a conservative nonprofit corporation that accepts some for-profit corporate funding. And this film, which was available in theaters and on DVD, ran into problems when Citizens United wanted to put it on cable television through a free on-demand service.

    The Federal Elections Commission and federal district court found that the film really fell under provisions in the McCain-Feingold act that restrict so- called electioneering communications, that is, radio and television ads that feature a candidate and, if they don't expressly advocate that you vote for or against the candidate, they're the functional equivalent of express advocacy.

    If you fall under that provision, there are limitations. Corporations and unions can't use general treasury funds to fund the ads. The ads can't run 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election. And the sponsor has to disclose who's actually funding the film.

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