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Group alleges "Fahrenheit 9/11" ads flout federal election laws

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    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Broadcasting    

Group alleges “Fahrenheit 9/11” ads flout federal election laws

  • A conservative soft-money group seeks to ban advertisements for “Fahrenheit 9/11” in a complaint alleging a violation of the federal campaign advertising laws.

June 25, 2004 — Pro-Republican advocacy group Citizens United filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission Thursday alleging that advertisements for Michael Moore’s film “Fahrenheit 9/11” violate the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Citizens United, a conservative grassroots advocacy group, says ads for Moore’s film depicting President Bush violate federal law because they are “broadcast advertisements” designed to influence the outcome of a federal election. In its complaint filed with the FEC, Citizen’s United stated, “Moore produced the work for use as a political weapon against President Bush and for the express purpose of influencing the outcome in the November 2004 presidential election.” Ads touting “Fahrenheit 9/11” depict a scathing portrayal of the Bush administration and what Moore regards as its mishandling of the war on terrorism and the decision to invade Iraq.

Since the FEC may take months to issue a ruling on the complaint, it is highly unlikely the decision will come in time to affect the film’s advertising campaign.

The complaint alleges the ads violate election laws because they qualify as “electioneering communications.” Such ads paid by corporations or foreign nationals are prohibited from airing on any broadcast, cable, or satellite communication viewed by 50,000 or more persons if they refer to a “clearly identified candidate for federal office,” within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election. If the FEC rules Moore’s corporate funded ads qualify as “electioneering communications,” they may issue an order prohibiting the ads from airing 30 days before the GOP nominating convention Aug. 30-Sept. 2 and 60 days before the Nov. 2 election.

The FEC may allow Moore to continue running ads if they qualify under a “media exemption” in the act, a provision in which members of the certain media organizations are freed from the ban on the use of corporate money for ads discussing political candidates in the days before an election. The commercials may qualify for an exemption if they are designated “news stories, commentaries, or editorials.”

“My goal is to have Michael Moore’s advertisements, as they are, taken off the air,” said David Bossie, president of Citizens United, in a story in the Los Angeles Times today. “If he changes his advertising . . . if he takes the likeness off the ads, then he can run the ads until he’s blue in the face.”

Yesterday, the FEC handed down a decision that may affect the Citizens United complaint, when it declined to allow ads for another documentary film to air because it qualified as “electioneering communications.” Filmmaker David Hardy had asked the FEC if he could air advertisements referring to congressional officeholders appearing in his documentary, “The Rights of the People.”

In a Los Angeles Times story today, Republican FEC commissioner Michael E. Toner would not comment specifically about the complaint, but he did say he thought federal law clearly gave a filmmaker such as Moore the right to market his film however he pleased, with protection under the exemption normally given to the media.

“In looking at the statute, the legislative history and the case law, I don’t think there’s any doubt that independent filmmakers cannot be restricted,” Toner said. “To consider otherwise would place the activities of independent filmmakers at considerable risk and raise serious constitutional issues.”


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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