July 09, 2004

Soupie: McCain-Feingold and Major League Baseball

by Guest Contributor

If you follow Major League Baseball, you undoubtedly heard all the hub-bub over Carlos Beltran and the All-Star game. Briefly, Beltran was voted onto the American League team by his fellow American Leaguers while he was still playing for the Kansas City Royals. However, before the teams were announced, Beltran was traded to the National League Houston Astros. Baseball suddenly found itself in a no-win situation…namely, whether to put Beltran on the NL team. If they put him on the team, they would do so at the expense of a player who would have been on the team and they would, in effect, be allowing the American League players to put someone on the NL team (which, given that league who wins the ASG gets homefield advantage in the World Series, would seem to be unfair). On the other hand, if they ruled Beltran ineligible for the NL team, they would be punishing Beltran simply because his team sent him elsewhere and would be denying the fans a chance to see one of the best CFs in the game. Like I said—a no-win situation.

By now you are wondering what the hell this has to do with the assigned topic. The short answer is “not much.” The longer, more accurate answer is that the Federal Election Commission faces a similar decision when deciding whether Fahrenheit 9/11 violates McCain-Feingold.

(Quick recap…McCain-Feingold says that at certain times on the calendar, independent organizations cannot run ads financed with corporate or union money. The ban on corporate or union funding applies to any broadcast ad that identifies a candidate for federal office and airs within 60 days of Election Day, or 30 days of the convention that would nominate that candidate. These rules have an exception, for "news articles, editorials and commentary.")

Because Moore has been outspoken regarding this being an anti-Bush film, the argument can be (and has been) made that F9/11 goes beyond the commentary exception and that any commercials for it must adhere to the rules of McCain-Feingold. Even if F9/11 is found to be commentary, the FEC still hasn’t ruled on whether the commentary exception also applies to advertisements for that commentary.

So, how should the FEC decide? If they rule for Moore, they create an intriguing loophole to the law. Private groups wanting to run ads after the deadlines would only need to create a film about their issue. While this seems farfetched, one can only imagine the line of wannabe Michael Moores who would gladly make these films. The film wouldn’t even have to be good (if we are using Moore as the template). If, on the other hand, the FEC rules against Moore, suddenly McCain-Feingold gives that whole First Amendment thing a big fat headbutt. Telling a private filmmaker that he cannot advertise his film simply because of the subject matter and a date on the calendar seems to run counter to the idea of free speech.

Looking back at the Beltran example, however, there is one other school of thought. Carlos Beltran had been holding the Royals hostage, telling them that he was not going to re-sign with the team after this season. KC had to do something or risk getting nothing. By putting his team in that situation, some would say that Beltran was running the risk that something like this would happen. Perhaps the same could be said of Moore. He could have released this movie later (say after Election Day). He could have possibly released it earlier (though there was that delay with Disney), so that the hoopla had died down by now. Instead, he released it when he did and, in so doing, forced the FEC’s hand. Under this view, Moore took the chance that the FEC would rule against him and, if they do, he has no one to blame but himself.

Postscript: I seriously doubt this thing comes to a head. The FEC has been pretty slow and has tried to avoid controversy. Even if they did rule against him on the ads, Moore could probably just change the wording/graphics on his commercials and comply. I am just sick of people acting like Moore and Beltran are somehow victims.

July 9, 2004 11:04 PM | TrackBack

Does Beltran's substitution for Ken Griffey change your analysis? What if Michael Moore pulls a hamstring?

Posted by: Milbarge at July 12, 2004 02:58 AM

Milbarge, see Rod Beck's famous quote about why he never got injured. Michael Moore could never pull a hamstring.

Posted by: Steve at July 12, 2004 07:37 AM
Sitting in Review
Armen (e-mail) #
PG (e-mail) #
Dave (e-mail) #
Craig (e-mail) #
About Us
Senior Status
Chris Geidner #
Jeremy Blachman #
Nick Morgan #
Wings & Vodka #
Recent Opinions
Persuasive Authority
De Novo Reporter

Powered by
Movable Type 3.21