Monday, June 29, 2009

High Court Decides To Rehear Clinton Documentary Case

June 29, 2009 – 1:59 p.m.
By Bart Jansen, CQ Staff

The Supreme Court wants to hear a new round of arguments in a closely watched case about how nonprofits can weigh in during political campaigns, and has signalled that it might broaden the case to cover print advertising in addition to TV programming.

The case — which involves a critical cable documentary about Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton that a nonprofit funded and sought to run during the 2008 presidential primaries — will be reargued Sept. 9, the high court said Monday.

By then, the court may have a new justice: President Obama has nominated appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to succeed retiring Justice David H. Souter .

The court has asked both sides to address its 1990 ruling upholding a state law prohibiting the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a nonprofit funded largely by dues from for-profit corporations, from running newspaper ads supporting a candidate. Although the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found the state law violated the First Amendment, the high court in 1990 upheld the prohibition on such express advocacy by corporations in a 6-3 decision.

The court’s ruling in the case of “Hillary: The Movie” could have broad ramifications for campaign advertising, especially if it relaxes a longstanding federal ban on corporate spending to expressly support candidates.

“What that means is that the Supreme Court will consider whether corporations and unions can go ahead and can spend unlimited amounts of their shareholders’ money or union dues on hard-hitting, negative attack ads that are full-fledged express advocacy,” said Scott E. Thomas, a former Federal Election Commission chairman who is now of counsel at Dickstein Shapiro LLP. “That has to have the American public a little frightened of what they’re going to see on their television sets. They’re already sick of the saturation that they already see. It’s a significant thing.”

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