The Federal Election Commission (FEC) can continue regulating, even censoring, books and movies after a vote to exempt those forms of media content failed 3 to 3.
One of the six commissioners of the FEC, Lee. E. Goodman, proposed an amendment to a regulation in order to modernize the rule to include twenty-first century technology.
“Today [Thursday] at the FEC’s public meeting, I moved to clarify that books, electronic books, motion pictures and streaming films are exempted from FEC regulation under the FEC’s ‘press exemption’ regulation,” Goodman told The Daily Caller News Foundation (DCNF).
The FEC has a regulation in place called Technological Modernization, which seeks to oversee any financial contributions made by electronic means. There is currently a press exemption in place, which states that “a media entity’s costs for carrying news stories, commentary and editorials are not considered ‘contributions’ or ‘expenditures.'”
Goodman wanted to update the statute to include more modern technology, like “satellite” television and radio as well as any “internet-enabled application, motion picture, [or] book.” In other words, e-readers like Kindles, and streaming capabilities like Netflix and Amazon Prime.
“I thought it might be important to update [the rule] to recognize that the new media press publication often publishes through applications, as well,” Goodman said during the open meeting.
Goodman’s proposal was not intended to make a new law, but rather clarify an existing law.
“The Supreme Court has recognized that books and moving pictures are fully entitled to the press protections of the First Amendment. Not just the First Amendment protections. But they are included in the press clause. So these are well settled legal principles. And here is a perfect, an opportune time to update our press exemption,” Goodman said during the deliberation.
Goodman expressed his disappointment that the original exemption he proposed months ago “didn’t make the final cut,” and that his amendment ultimately failed to pass during deliberation.
“By blocking adoption of my motion, the three Democratic commissioners effectively maintained a vague FEC regulation that chills the production of documentary films and publication of books,” Goodman told TheDCNF.
The three voting to protect books and motion pictures from FEC regulation and potential censorship were Chair Matthew Petersen, Commissioner Caroline Hunter and Commissioner Goodman. Three voting to maintain regulatory power over books and motion pictures were Commissioner Ann Ravel, Commissioner Ellen Weintraub, and Commissioner Steve Walther.
This issue also arose during the Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC, in which the federal government, specifically Deputy Solicitor General Malcolm Stewart, argued that it had the power to ban books if those books mentioned the name of candidate and if that book was published during the electoral process.
This debate was mainly centered around Citizens United’s production of a film that was critical of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The most recent vote is emblematic of a long-running dispute at the FEC regarding regulation of documentary films.
After the Supreme Court issued its opinion on the case, Citizens United returned to the FEC to obtain official recognition of its free press rights under the press exemption. Citizens United was granted access in a vote of 4 to 1 to 1. Commissioner Weintraub declined to vote on the matter, while commissioner Walther still voted against granting the movie free press rights.
The FEC was also split 3 to 3 on the 2016 independent documentary company Highway 61 earlier this year, which published a film about President Barack Obama. Democratic commissioners Weintraub, Walther, and Ravel, were the three who concluded that the press exemption did not apply to this film.
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