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Freedom of the press isn’t so free when government officials vote to punish a filmmaker for distributing a documentary film. Revealing their bias against conservative media, the Democratic commissioners on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) voted to punish the maker of a film critical of Barack Obama, Dreams of My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception, earlier this year. The film that was distributed free prior to the 2012 election. Yesterday, Republican FEC Commissioner Lee E. Goodman, who has been warning of efforts by her Democratic colleagues to regulate conservative news sites, condemned their votes restricting the filmmaker’s speech, warning that:
“They signal an active regulatory effort within the agency, caution press organizations to look over their shoulders, and chill the free exercise of press activity.”
Filmmaker John Gilbert, producer of the documentary, was the subject of an FEC complaint claiming he violated reporting rules (put aside, for now, why filmmakers should have to report their movies to any government agency). Gilbert responded by citing the press exemption to the rules, but all three Democratic commissioners voted to deny Gilbert the exemption, despite the FEC general council’s recommendation that the film falls under the exemption. Gilbert acted on his own, having no ties to political groups or parties.
Liberal filmmakers such as Michael Moore have been granted the same press exemption that Democrats voted to deny Gilbert. Newspapers are entitled to distribute editorials right before an election without reporting them to the FEC. And a federal court ruled in FEC v. Phillips Publishing Company that the FEC has no regulatory authority over free, mass mailed commentary about a federal candidate. Likewise, Gilbert should enjoy the Constitution’s protection of a free press.
Curt Levey, Executive Director of FreedomWorks Foundation, commented on the larger threat exemplified by this case:
“The growing danger posed by the regulatory state stems not just from the myriad of complex rules that it promulgates, often with little or no statutory authority, but also from the arbitrary and often politically motivated way that federal bureaucrats enforce those rules. These unaccountable bureaucrats are a threat to our liberty, whether we’re talking about free speech, property rights, or the freedom to make a living.”