Coming Soon to a Democracy Near You...

The envelope, please. And the winner for "most influential motion picture in American politics" is... "Hillary: The Movie."

Never heard of it? Not surprising -- very few people saw it in the
first place. But "Hillary: The Movie" -- a no-holds-barred attack on
the life and career of Hillary Clinton intended for viewing during her
presidential campaign -- could prove to have an impact on the political
scene greater than even its producers could have dreamed.

In the world of money and politics, "Hillary: The Movie" may turn out
to be the sleeper hit of the year, a boffo blockbuster. Depending on
the outcome of a special Supreme Court hearing on September 9th, this
little piece of propaganda could unleash a new torrent of cash flooding
into campaigns from big business, unions and other special interests.
"Hillary: The Movie" may turn out to be "Frankenstein: The Monster."

The film was created by a conservative group called Citizens United.
They wanted to distribute the film via on-demand TV and buy commercials
to promote those telecasts, but because the film was partially financed
by corporate sponsors, the Federal Election Commission said no, that it
was a violation of the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act --
McCain-Feingold -- which restricts the use of corporate money directly
for or against candidates.

Citizens United appealed their case all the way to the Supreme Court,
where it was first heard back in March. But the court did an usual
thing. They asked for more time and ordered a new hearing and new
arguments, almost a month ahead of the first Monday in October that
usually marks the official start of the court's annual sessions.

The reason for the special hearing is to more broadly consider the
constitutionality of McCain-Feingold and campaign finance reform in
general; whether it denies a corporation the First Amendment right of
free speech.

Those who believe that a corporation is being deprived of a fundamental
right feel it should be treated no differently than any individual
citizen. Those opposed believe that corporations do not hold the same
rights as citizens and that their deep pockets -- via political action
committees (PAC's) and other avenues of participation -- already give
them clout and influence dangerous to the health of a democracy.

All of this comes, as The New York Times
reported, "At a crucial historical moment, as corporations today almost
certainly have more to gain or fear from government action than at any
time since the New Deal."

More than fifty friend of the court (amicus)
briefs have been filed, an unprecedented number for a First Amendment
case. The legal wrangling has made for some strange pairings. "The
American Civil Liberties Union and its usual allies are on opposite
sides," the Times
noted, "with the civil rights group fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with
the National Rifle Association" in support of "Hillary: The Movie's"
corporate sponsors.

"Most of the rest of the liberal establishment is on the other side,
saying that allowing corporate money to flood the airwaves would
pollute and corrupt political discourse."

One of those who will argue on September 9th for overturning the
McCain-Feingold limitations is the redoubtable Floyd Abrams, the ardent
and vocal defender of free speech who has argued many landmark First
Amendment cases before the Supreme Court. On the other side is Trevor
Potter, founding president of the non-partisan Campaign Legal Center
and a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. General
Counsel to John McCain during his presidential campaigns in 2000 and
2008, Potter was involved in the drafting of McCain-Feingold and has
filed one of the amicus briefs in its defense.

Both appear on the current edition of public television'sBill Moyers Journal,
interviewed by my colleague Bill Moyers. "The question here is to what
extent, if at all, can unions and corporations spend their money to put
ads on or to speak out themselves in their own name about political
matters, including even who to vote for," Abrams said.

"I don't think that we should make a distinction on First Amendment
grounds in terms of who's speaking. I think that whether the speaker is
an individual or an issue group or a union or a corporation, if
anything, the public is served, not disserved, by having more speech."

Trevor Potter disagreed. "Corporations exist for economic purposes,
commercial purposes," he said. "And the notion that they have full
First Amendment free speech rights, as well doesn't make any sense for
this artificial creation that exists for economic, not political

"Corporations just want to make money. So, if you let the corporation
with a privileged economic legal position loose in the political sphere
when we're deciding who to elect, I think you are giving them an
enormous advantage over individuals and not a healthy one for our

The Supreme Court could rule just on Citizen United's "Hillary: The
Movie" case, but the call for the special session and the current
composition of the court would seem to indicate that the decision might
completely overthrow McCain-Feingold.

Three thousand corporate PAC's registered with the Federal Election
Commission in 2007 and 2008 spent more than $500 million for political
purposes. And we've seen the hundreds of millions big business already
has spent to battle the Obama administration's domestic agenda. A 5-4
decision in favor of corporate interests could mean much, much more
money from multinational corporations overwhelming our electoral

Think of the September 9th hearing as a sneak preview of coming attractions.

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