You might think it’s only in Iran that supporting or opposing a politician can be a criminal offense.
“Hillary: The Movie” is a documentary film produced by an advocacy group called Citizens United. It lambastes Hillary Clinton. Its distribution has been barred by the Federal Elections Commission (pursuant to Congressional enactment).
Apparently some fine print in the U.S. Constitution has been overlooked: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech.” Or maybe that language is just too ambiguous.
At any rate, the case is now before the Supreme Court. The issue is fundamental: to what extent can the government regulate political advocacy, or even outlaw it? Some argue that such power is necessary or else politics can be corrupted by money spent by, say, corporations.
I share their concern about money distorting politics (and even lament this problem in my recent book). But spending money on, for example, political ads, or documentary films, that support or oppose politicians is certainly a form of freedom of speech — indeed, it is the most important aspect of freedom of speech. The freedom to say you hate Broccoli is not that critical. But the freedom to say you hate Hillary — and to express that opinion in the public square — is absolutely critical to our democratic system. That’s why the Constitution does not say “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, except when it deems such abridgement desirable.” The framers knew exactly what they were doing in writing the First Amendment in such unequivocal language.
This Congress has essentially disregarded in passing laws that subject political advocacy to federal regulations and limitations. Thus, the politicians who run the government, in effect, claim the power to restrict what their political opponents can say about them. For instance, they have placed restrictions on ads that support or criticize political candidates in the weeks before an election. If you form an organization, “Citizens for Free Trade,” and raise money, and want to run an ad before an election saying, “Congressman Charlie Rumpkisser opposes free trade; vote against him” — that can be against the law. In America!!!
And, so far, the Supreme Court has upheld this.
Civil Liberties attorney Floyd Abrams, representing the film-makers, says “Criminalizing a movie about Hillary Clinton is a constitutional desecration.”