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FEC panel dismisses ‘Fahrenheit’ complaint

Panel rules that ads for film did not violate federal restrictions
/ Source: Reuters

A U.S. regulatory agency has dismissed the petition of a conservative advocacy group to bar TV ads for Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” documentary as a breach of federal restrictions on “electioneering” activity.

In a unanimous decision made public Thursday, the Federal Election Commission found no evidence that the movie’s ads had broken the law or that distributors of the film intended any violations in the future.

The commission said it agreed with the recommendation of its general counsel that the FEC “cannot entertain complaints based upon mere speculation that someone might violate the law.”

Moore has said he intended for the film, a blistering critique of President George W. Bush and his conduct of the war in Iraq, to help persuade Americans vote against a second term for Bush in November.

The group Citizens United filed its complaint against the “Fahrenheit 9/11” ad campaign in June, saying TV spots for the film which then included images and sound clips of Bush would be illegal if aired after July 30.

Federal election law prohibits companies and unions from advertising for or against political candidates 60 days before an election and 30 days before a political convention.

The distributors argued that the “Fahrenheit 9/11” ads broadcast after July 30 were permissible because they focused on audience and critical reaction to the film, and that no federal candidate for public office is identified.

The distributors — Lions Gate Films, IFC Films and the Fellowship Adventure Group spearheaded by Miramax Films co-chairman Harvey and Bob Weinstein — issued a statement applauding the FEC ruling.

“The distributors feel that this was the correct and proper response under the circumstances, and applaud the commission for its timely and appropriate decision,” they said.

Citizens United, which had also took part in a failed court challenge against a campaign finance reform law enacted to curb the influence of money in politics, could not be immediately reached for comment.

“Fahrenheit 9/11,” which won top honors at the Cannes film festival in May, has grossed more than $100 million, making it an unprecedented commercial success for a political documentary.