Mr. Precedent

An IU graduate helped open the floodgates to corporate and union campaign spending

In January 2008, James Bopp, BA’70, got laughed out of court — literally. The white-haired lawyer from Terre Haute, Ind., was appearing before a federal three-judge panel in Washington, D.C., to argue that his client, a small conservative nonprofit named Citizens United, should be able to air Hillary: The Movie on on-demand TV during the Democratic presidential primaries. Citizens United had produced the film to show that Hillary Clinton was a “European socialist” and ruthless political schemer — a cross between Machiavelli and Lady Macbeth who “looks good in a pantsuit,” as Ann Coulter put it in the movie. Also featured was Kathleen Willey, who accused Bill Clinton of hugging and kissing her in the White House — and who suggested in the film that Clinton had helped hatch a plot to assassinate her cat.

The Federal Election Commission told Citizens United that it couldn’t air or advertise the film during primary season, because it amounted to a 90-minute campaign ad that didn’t identify who’d paid for it. In court, Bopp argued that the movie wasn’t so different from what you’d see on 60 Minutes, and its creators deserved First Amendment protections.

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