Citizens United finds niche after landmark case
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a pair of town houses less than 10 blocks from where the Supreme Court gave his group a place in legal history, David Bossie is making movies and cutting a path for a new art form: the nonpolitical political ad.
Bossie is the president of Citizens United, a conservative group whose anti-Hillary Clinton movie in 2008 led to a landmark ruling this year. The Supreme Court threw out parts of a 63-year-old law prohibiting corporations and unions from paying to air ads for or against political candidates.
The decision has contributed to an explosion in political advertising by outside groups, so far most of them allied with the Republican Party, that have flocked to raise big money from individuals and companies and flooded into some of the most competitive races across the country.
Bossie, however, is sticking with his movies — conservative documentaries that are critical of President Barack Obama and the Democratic Congress or that champion conservative icons and causes.
Over the next week, Bossie says he plans to spend “a couple hundred thousand dollars” on 30-second ads on national cable television promoting four of his new films, available on DVD. The amount is modest compared to the millions being spent by other outside groups, but the political message in the ads is clear — Obama’s and the Democrats’ policies are wrong and conservatives need to assert themselves.
“Getting people activated, getting motivated is clearly part of our goal,” he said, sitting in his office two floors above Pennsylvania Avenue and next door to his film studio.
“The stakes on Nov. 2 are just unbelievably important,” former Democratic strategist-turned-conservative commentator Dick Morris says in one ad. Images of Obama appear, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid behind him. “He has no understanding of how to be president,” Morris adds. “Elections have consequences.”
But the ads, according to the Federal Election Commission, do not amount to electioneering.
In June, the FEC concluded that Citizens United was entitled to a “media exemption” extended to news stories or commentary by broadcast, cable or satellite television or radio stations that aren’t owned by a party, political committee or a candidate.
As a result, Citizens United doesn’t have to include a disclaimer that identifies who paid for the ad or assert that it is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee, like other political groups must do.
The ads will promote DVD movies such as “Battle for America,” the one featuring Morris; “America at Risk,” calling for a new commitment to fighting terrorism; “Generation Zero,” about the financial meltdown, and “Fire for the Heartland,” a salute to conservative women.
Bossie, a top Republican congressional investigator who led inquiries into President Bill Clinton’s Whitewater land deal and his fundraising, said he takes his inspiration from director Michael Moore, the provocative left-wing documentary maker who directed “Fahrenheit 911,” which accused President George W. Bush of using the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as a pretext to go to war in Iraq.
“A lot more people saw the ads than saw the movie,” he said of “Fahrenheit 911.” ”It permeated the culture.”
Still, the Supreme Court decision prompted by his anti-Hillary Clinton movie has done far more to expand the reach of political advertising for other outside groups than it has for Citizens United.
“It was always a custom designed test case,” said Trevor Potter, a campaign finance lawyer who worked on John McCain’s Republican presidential campaign and is a critic of the ruling. “The beneficiaries were always going to be other players.”
Obama, who took the unusual step of denouncing the court’s decision during this year’s State of the Union address, has made the case a staple of his current stump speech and has criticized it twice during his Saturday morning radio and Internet addresses.
“I want you to understand right now all over this country special interests are planning and running millions of dollars of attack ads against Democratic candidates,” Obama said at a Democratic fundraiser in New York on Wednesday. “Because of last year’s Supreme Court decision in Citizens United, they are now allowed to spend as much as they want, unlimited amounts of money, and they don’t have to reveal who is paying for these ads.”
Obama’s chief political adviser, David Axelrod, continued that line of criticism Sunday, complaining that Republicans had blocked legislation to require groups that air political ads to reveal their donors.
“You know, there’s an old saying that if you want to keep things secret, you have something to hide,” Axelrod said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Bossie takes delight in the attention.
“You can see by the actions of the White House and the Congress, this Citizens United ruling has gotten under the skin of the liberal establishment, the leadership of the House and Senate and the White House,” he said. “They are completely emotional.”