Yesterday, a lawyer for Citizens United filed a notice with the U.S. District Court that it will be taking its challenge of the McCain-Feingold act to the Supreme Court. The conservative advocacy group has sued the Federal Election Commission to try to win approval to broadcast ads for its anti-Hillary movie without having to comply with campaign finance laws requiring the group to disclose its donors. Citizens United has argued that “Hillary: The Movie” is a documentary, not campaign propaganda, and that the ads are protected commercial speech advertising the film.
Those arguments literally got laughed out of federal court last week in a hearing on the case. Tuesday, a three-judge panel formally ruled against Citizens United, saying that, “The Movie is susceptible of no other interpretation than to inform the electorate that Senator Clinton is unfit for office, that the United States would be a dangerous place in a President Hillary Clinton world, and that viewers should vote against her.”
Undaunted, Citizens United has notified the court that it intends to appeal, and will be asking the Supreme Court for an expedited decision so that it could potentially air the ads during the election season. While some of the group’s arguments about the nature of the film are indeed enough to get a federal judge to laugh, some of the more substantive arguments in its appeal should cause concern for campaign finance watchdogs. If Citizens United should happen to win its case, outside interest groups will be free to run all sorts of “issue ads” against political candidates during elections, without ever having to disclose who paid for them.