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'Hillary: The Movie' to Get Supreme Court Screening

David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United, the group that made "Hillary: The Movie." The film -- and the issue of what constitutes political speech -- is at the heart of a case the Supreme Court will consider next week.
David N. Bossie is president of Citizens United, the group that made "Hillary: The Movie." The film -- and the issue of what constitutes political speech -- is at the heart of a case the Supreme Court will consider next week. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
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By Robert Barnes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 15, 2009

"Hillary: The Movie" came and went without much of a splash last year. Reviews were not flattering, Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign waned and one devastating critique made sure that the scalding documentary would never become a blockbuster hit.

It came from a panel of judges in Washington that said "H:TM" was not really a movie at all.

The court sided with the Federal Election Commission and said the film was a 90-minute campaign ad "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."

As such, the film produced by conservative activists at Citizens United fell under the tangle of broadcast and advertising restrictions in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that dictate how and when the movie can be shown and advertised.

But the ultimate impact of "Hillary: The Movie" may come at the Supreme Court, where this week justices once again will be challenged to decide how congressional intentions to curb the power of special interest groups can coexist with the First Amendment's protection of free speech.

"It seems to me the number one thing the First Amendment protects is communication about who we elect to run our government," said Theodore B. Olson, the Bush administration solicitor general who is representing Citizens United.

Because the movie is partially financed with corporate funds, it fell under restrictions in the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 -- as the McCain-Feingold law is formally known -- on "any broadcast, cable or satellite communications" that refers to a candidate for federal office within a certain time frame before an election. The law's requirement that ads clearly state the name of the group paying for them made Citizens United's planned 10-second media ads unworkable, the group said.

As a practical matter, that meant Citizens United could show "H:TM" in theaters and sell it on DVDs, but promoting it through its planned advertising campaign was restricted. And the prohibitions on broadcast just before an election doomed the group's hope of paying $1.2 million to have the movie available on cable systems around the country via video-on-demand services.

Citizens United, a nonprofit corporation with a budget of $12 million, has been one of the most relentless critics of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton and acknowledges that its movie has a "point of view." Indeed, it is a nonstop montage of Clinton's changing hairdos, interspersed with reports about various scandals during the Clinton White House years, critiques of her performance as a senator from New York and as a Democratic presidential candidate, and withering testimony about her alleged lack of character and honesty.

It was the brainchild of Citizens United President David N. Bossie, a former congressional aide whose battles with the Clinton administration are legendary.

"I took my motivation 100 percent from Michael Moore" and Moore's anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," Bossie said, in deciding to take Citizens United in a new direction in spreading the conservative message.

Seeing the power of Moore's film to energize liberals, Bossie recalled in an interview, "I said, 'Do we know anybody who makes movies?' "

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