Quashing speech

The inherent conflict between the First Amendment and "campaign finance reform" will again be on full display Tuesday, as the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a case involving a film that is highly critical of Hillary Clinton.

The case highlights one more time the hostility of campaign "reformers" toward the Bill of Rights.

"Hillary: The Movie" was released last year as Ms. Clinton was locked in a duel with Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. Producer David Bossie wanted to run TV ads promoting the film in key election states. He also sought to show the movie on cable television's video-on-demand.

But a federal court ruled that the movie was nothing more than an attack ad and that promotional efforts would violate McCain-Feingold, the campaign finance law which prohibits certain groups from airing political advertisements within 90 days of an election.

It doesn't get much clearer than that. Remember, "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech ..."? How does it square with the First Amendment that the government can prevent a private outfit from airing advertisements for a movie about a political candidate? Isn't the right to embrace or scorn a candidate for public office precisely what that First Amendment is all about?

So egregious is this case that even some media groups which have formerly been cheerleaders for campaign finance reform are now finally recognizing the dangers.

"By criminalizing the distribution of a long-form documentary film, as if it was nothing more than a very long advertisement, the district court has created uncertainty about where the line between traditional news commentary and felonious advocacy lies," said a statement from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. If the decision is upheld, "I can certainly see journalists running afoul of this law in the future," lawyer Lucy Dalglish said.

In the interest of disclosure, Mr. Bossie's organization also came out with "Obama: The Hype Effect" a free-to-readers DVD that was inserted for a fee inside a half dozen newspapers across the country, including the Review-Journal.

But the issue here isn't whether you agree with Mr. Bossie's views. These restrictions on political speech in the name of campaign reform are an affront to independent groups of all political persuasions -- and this case presents the high court justices with a clear opportunity to say just that.