BCRA is allowed to stand and "American Candidate" passes
BCRA muster, maybe Barbra Streisand can team up with Rob Reiner
and Alec Baldwin to air a political sitcom that could rival Friends
on "Must See TV."
and the Hollywood Loophole
February, in a not so fitting tribute to Valentines Day, Congress
passed the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act (BCRA), an egregious
assault on the First Amendment rights of all Americans to engage
in the political process. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Russ Feingold
(D-WI) and Representatives Chris Shays (R-CT) and Marty Meehan (D-MA),
along with their "reform" supporters, are now unhappy
with the way the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is interpreting
the legislation in drafting its regulations. Lawsuits are being
prepared and attacks are being lobbed at the FEC as part of an exhaustive
effort to impose further restrictions or outright bans
on political speech that "reformers" were unable to obtain
from Congress earlier this year.
The media stands
to gain enormous power in the political process should BCRA be upheld
by the U.S. Supreme Court, as theyre exempt. That much is
clear to everyone following this issue, especially the editorial
page editors of nearly every major newspaper in the country. However,
whats not being discussed, much to the delight of "reformers,"
is what appears to be an exemption for Hollywood.
tuned in to the much anticipated two-hour season premier of The
West Wing tens of millions of us to be exact should
have recognized that producer Aaron Sorkin was clearly taking notes
during the BCRA debate. Interwoven throughout the show were thinly-veiled
political advertisements for the Democratic Party and its platform,
not to mention an assortment of gratuitous slaps leveled at the
fictional presidential candidate Robert Ritchie, whose character
bears a striking resemblance to President George W. Bush. While
a (real) "clearly identified candidate for political office"
was never mentioned during the show, one might argue the show falls
into the category of political "sham ads" from which incumbent
"reformers" worked so hard to insulate themselves. Who
knows, maybe McCain and Company can convince the FEC to qualify
it as such.
Then there is
"American Candidate," the new reality TV show being developed
by Fox Televisions cable network FX. Playing
off the reality hit show "American Idol," Fox has
set out to find the "Peoples Choice" for the 2004
presidential election. (Before you get too excited, Justin and
Kelly are too young to be president. But their candidacies would
have certainly done wonders to reverse voter apathy.) According
to the shows producers, viewers will hand pick their choice
for the White House from a list of 100 pre-screened contenders.
All applicants must fill out a lengthy questionnaire, submit a video
of themselves explaining why theyre suited for the most powerful
job in the world and produce a petition signed by at least 50 supporters.
Should the "Peoples Choice" actually decide to pursue
the Oval Office after he or she is announced the winner on or about
July 4, 2004, FX will then continue to follow the candidate
on his/her campaign trail through the November elections.
could have never anticipated this. The concept certainly threatens
their incumbent protection measures outlined in BCRA, but will the
show directly violate BCRA?
Candidates" qualification requirements will entail the
spending of money by each contestant; gathering signatures and making
a video tape is not free. Couple that with travel expenses, meals,
and a variety of other costs and it wont take long for the
contestants to reach the $1,000 threshold that triggers reporting
if the contestant crowned the "Peoples Candidate"
does in fact choose to enter the presidential race, will FX,
in covering the candidacy, be in violation of the new "electioneering
communication" restrictions imposed by BCRA? And what about
the shows corporate sponsors that will advertise during its
airing? Will the advertising costs be considered campaign contributions
under BCRA? What about the shows production costs?
You get the
would be wise to seek an advisory opinion from the FEC before moving
forward in order to avoid the wrath of McCain. Oh yeah, that wont
work. Weve already been told the FEC is evil and should be
All of this
may be moot if the Supreme Court sides with the more than 80 plaintiffs
spanning the political spectrum, including the Center for Individual
Freedom, that are challenging the constitutionality of BCRA. If
it doesnt, Hollywood may have just found an even more powerful
niche in U.S. politics.
If BCRA is allowed
to stand and "American Candidate" passes BCRA muster,
maybe Barbra Streisand can team up with Rob Reiner and Alec Baldwin
to air a political sitcom that could rival Friends on "Must
Alec Baldwin moved out of the country yet, as promised?
story appeared as an Op-Ed in The
Washington Times on October 7, 2002.
September 26, 2002]