«ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MOTION TO DISMISS OR AFFIRM PAUL D. CLEMENT Solicitor General THOMASENIA ...»
4. Appellant contends ( J.S. 13) that BCRA’s disclaimer provisions “require [appellant] to mislead the Appellant contends that, “[i]n addition to being protected issue advocacy,” the advertisements at issue here are properly regarded as proposals for commercial transactions, such as box office sales or DVD purchases of “Hillary: The Movie.” J.S. 11; see J.S. 10. To the extent that appellant’s advertisements constitute commercial speech, however, they are if anything entitled to less rather than more constitutional protection. See Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Serv.
Comm’n, 447 U.S. 557, 562-563 (1980) (“The Constitution * * * accords a lesser protection to commercial speech than to other constitutionally guaranteed expression.”). The film that appellant seeks to promote, moreover, was found by the district court to be the functional equivalent of express advocacy, J.S. App. 9a-14a, and appellant has not challenged that determination in this Court.
public by identifying its speech as electioneering speech when it is not.” That assertion is baseless. The challenged disclaimer provisions require that an “electioneering communication” broadcast on television must include a written statement on the screen that (a) identifies “the name and permanent street address, telephone number, or World Wide Web address of the person who paid for the communication,” (b) states “that the communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee,” and (c) states that the entity funding the electioneering communication “is responsible for the content of this advertising.” See 2 U.S.C. 441d(a)(3) and (d)(2) (Supp. V 2005); 11 C.F.R. 110.11(a)(4), (b)(3) and (c)(4)(iii). The disclaimer provisions further require that such an advertisement include an oral statement that the entity funding the electioneering communication “is responsible for the content of this advertising.” See 2 U.S.C. 441d(d)(2) (Supp. V 2005); 11 C.F.R. 110.11(a)(4) and (c)(4)(i). Those provisions do not require appellant to characterize its advertisements as “electioneering” speech or anything else, but simply require appellant to take responsibility “for the content of this advertising.” Appellant further contends ( J.S. 13) that the disclaimer requirements “deprive [appellant] of valuable time in its short and expensive broadcast Ads, which deprivation and burden is not justified by any constitutional or congressional authority.” The required written disclaimer, however, may occupy as little as four percent of the vertical height of the television screen, see 11 C.F.R. 110.11(c)(4)(iii)(A), and the oral disclaimer would consist solely of the words “Citizens United is responsible for the content of this advertising,” see 2 U.S.C.
441d(d)(2) (Supp. V 2005). Any burden those requirements may impose is not of constitutional dimension.
The disclaimer requirements serve to ensure that voters can properly assign responsibility for advertisements that refer to identified federal candidates during the run-up to elections—and, in particular, to prevent the misattribution of such advertisements to the candidate or her opponent.
Eight Justices in McConnell agreed that BCRA’s disclaimer provisions are valid as applied to “electioneering communications” generally. 540 U.S. at 230-231;
see id. at 224 & n.*. This Court’s intervening decision in WRTL provides no basis for concluding that the disclaimer provisions are unconstitutional as applied to appellant’s own advertisements. The fact that appellant’s advertisements are not unambiguously election-related—i.e., the fact that they may reasonably be construed as something other than an appeal to vote against Hillary Clinton—does not eliminate the risk of voter confusion or misattribution that the disclaimer requirements are intended to address. Because any burden on appellant is minor, and the government’s interest is substantial, appellant’s as-applied challenge fails.
5. This Court has long recognized that “the distinction between discussion of issues and candidates and advocacy of election or defeat of candidates may often dissolve in practical application.” Buckley, 424 U.S. at
42. Thus, even when a particular “electioneering communication” can “reasonably be interpreted as something other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate,” WRTL, 127 S. Ct. at 2670 (opinion of Roberts, C.J.), and therefore is exempt under WRTL from BCRA § 203’s ban on corporate treasury financing, the advertisement may still have a practical impact on candidate elections. The lead opinion in WRTL did not suggest that, unless a particular “electioneering communication” is the “functional equivalent” of express advocacy, its potential impact on candidate elections must be ignored altogether. Rather, the opinion analyzed BCRA § 203’s treasury-financing ban as a form of “suppression” of corporate speech and concluded that “[d]iscussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent to an election.” Id. at
2669.8 The thrust of the opinion was that, if reasonable doubt exists as to whether a particular advertisement constitutes electoral advocacy, “the First Amendment requires [the Court] to err on the side of protecting political speech rather than suppressing it.” Id. at 2659.
Application of BCRA’s reporting and disclaimer requirements, by contrast, cannot plausibly be viewed as “suppression” of speech. To the contrary, enforcement of those requirements increases the range of information available to citizens and thereby furthers First Amendment values. See McConnell, 540 U.S. at 197 (explaining that “[p]laintiffs’ argument for striking down BCRA’s disclosure provisions * * * ignores the competing First Amendment interests of individual citizens seeking to make informed choices in the political marketplace”) (quoting McConnell, 251 F. Supp. 2d at 237);
Buckley, 424 U.S. at 82 (characterizing FECA disclosure requirements as “a minimally restrictive method of furthering First Amendment values by opening the basic processes of our federal election system to public view”).
The core rationale of the lead opinion in WRTL—i.e., that any ambiguity as to the character of particular advertisements must be resolved in a speech-protective Justice Scalia’s concurring opinion likewise rested on the view that BCRA § 203 “bans vast amounts of political advocacy.” 127 S. Ct. at 2684 (Scalia, J., concurring in part and concurring in the judgment) (emphasis added).