Citizens United Turns A Camera On Colorado Politics

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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Citizens United is making a documentary film about Colorado politics and candidates to be released ahead of the November election and has asked the Colorado secretary of state’s office to be exempt from restrictions on campaign expenditures and electioneering materials.

The hour-long film will be released in September and will contain “unambiguous references” to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and members of the state legislature who are running for re-election.

In a petition filed with the Secretary of State’s office, Citizens United attorney Michael Boos said the film will neither endorse nor oppose any candidate, “but some of the background footage appearing in the film and/or advertising may include audio statements from, and/or visual images of, activities wherein the election or defeat of one or more candidates is expressly advocated by participants in those activities.”

Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler is competing for the GOP nomination to challenge Hickenlooper in November’s election.

“We are evaluating the petition to determine if we are going to hold a public hearing,” Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert told the Denver Post. “If we do it will be toward the end of May or early June. An opinion would be issued afterward.”

In its petition, Citizens United noted that the Federal Election Commission ruled in 2010 that its films qualify it as a “press entity” exempt from definitions of “expenditure” and “electioneering communication” that apply to political advocacy organizations. It asks for a declaratory order saying it’s likewise exempt under Colorado’s election laws.

“[N]o precedent exists as to the application of Colorado’s campaign finance law to a documentary film,” Boos noted.

The petition notes the film will be marketed and distributed across the country through DVD sales, TV broadcast and online.

Citizens United has produced a number of films, including about Hillary Clinton, President Obama, President Reagan, immigration and 9/11.

In the FEC opinion, included with the petition as an exhibit, commissioners note that Citizens United spent approximately $3.4 million making documentary films in 2009, about a quarter of its annual budget.

“[A]nd Citizens United anticipates spending a similar proportion of its budget on film-related activities for the foreseeable future,” the FEC wrote.

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