Citizens United is generically known as the 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for corporations and people to donate anonymously to political campaigns by way of SuperPAC groups. But the whole story actually began back in 2008, when the PAC Citizens United was banned from airing an anti Hillary Clinton propaganda film on national TV shortly before the Democratic primaries.
A U.S. district court in DC had blocked “Hillary: The Movie” from airing based on laws that qualified it as illegal “electioneering.” The law forbade this type of “electioneering communication” to be funded by corporations and unions, and forbade them from airing on TV 60 days before a general election or 30 days before a primary.
The Citizens United decision changed all that, and tomorrow the Citizens United group will do what it couldn’t in 2008: Air an hour-long propaganda film on national TV for the weeks leading up to an election and advertise it everywhere—all paid for courtesy of anonymous (probably corporate) donors.
Politico notes that “The Hope and the Change,” from Stephen Bannon, who directed the pro Sarah Palin film “The Undefeated,” will infiltrate American households tomorrow through election day on November 6, with coverage on 6 broadcast networks and 6 cable channels. That’s a lot of coverage. Citizens United will also buy ample advertising to promote the film on TV.
Citizens United’s president David Bossie celebrated the cout decision that allowed his film to air this year: “This would have been a criminal act under McCain-Feingold before my court case,” he said.
In the last two years since the court’s decision, we’ve seen its ramifications mostly in the form of increased political ads. We know that pervasive ads do influence elections, but there’s really no precedent for how the “The Hope and the Change,”—apparently an odd shout-out to “The Sound and the Fury”—might impact the election. But if short political ads can influence voters’ thinking, I imagine an hour-long editorial running everywhere on national TV could have a serious impact if the propaganda is effective enough.
Politico notes that the show’s strategy is to focus on “average,” everyday people who have become disillusioned with Obama and present them as the mainstream, “not any of the more incendiary, base-motivating claims about the president” made in Dinesh D’Souza’s propaganda movie “2016.” Of course, what the film won’t tell you is that its cast will likely be mostly paid actors. Bossie says Citizens United has been focus-group testing the show with marketing firms and “the numbers are phenomenal.”
It’s an interesting season for the dueling dynamics of free speech and political propaganda between this and the “Innocence of Muslims” film sparking riots across the Middle East. But whether “The Hope and the Change’ plays a part in setting the tone for the remainder of the campaign season remains to be seen. After all, as director Stephen Bannon’s track record with box-office bomb “The Undefeated” showed, high-profile propaganda films don’t always make waves, even with considerable marketing budgets.