The early reviews are in, and three U.S. federal judges appeared in agreement Thursday that a movie lambasting Hillary Rodham Clinton seemed an awful lot like a 90-minute campaign advertisement.
Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group, is challenging the nation's campaign finance laws, which require disclaimers on political advertisements and restrict when they can be broadcast.
The group argues Hillary: The Movie and related television advertisements are not political advertising even though the New York senator is in the presidential race.
Lawyer James Bopp argued that they should be considered "issue-oriented" speech because viewers aren't urged to vote for or against the Democrat.
"What's the issue?" asked Judge A. Raymond Randolph, a federal appeals judge sitting on a mixed panel to review the case.
"That Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist," Bopp replied. "That is an issue."
"Which has nothing to do with her campaign?" U.S District Judge Royce C. Lamberth interjected.
"Not specifically, no," Bopp replied.
"Once you say, 'Hillary Clinton is a European Socialist,' aren't you saying vote against her?"
Bopp disagreed because the movie did not use the word "vote."
"Oh, that's ridic …" Lamberth said, trailing off and ending the line of questioning.
Under campaign finance laws, Citizens United would be required to disclose its funding for the ads. It would also have to disclose donors and pay the costs of airing it on cable television from a political fund.
The movie is scheduled for six screenings in theatres, once each in California, Nevada, South Carolina, Arizona, New York and Washington.
It is also being sold on DVD. Neither of those methods is regulated under campaign laws. The advertisements, however, are scheduled to run during the peak presidential primary season and would be regulated.
Bopp, who successfully led a challenge to one aspect of the campaign finance system last year, compared the film to television news programs Frontline, Nova and 60 Minutes. That prompted Lamberth to laugh out loud from the bench.
"You can't compare this to 60 Minutes," the judge said. "Did you read this transcript?"
The movie features commentary from conservative pundits, some of whom specifically say Clinton is not fit to be the U.S. commander in chief.
One ad begins with a narrator saying, "First, a kind word about Hillary Clinton." Conservative commentator Ann Coulter says, "Looks good in a pant suit," to which the narrator adds, "Now, a movie about everything else."
Bopp received the greatest skepticism from Randolph and Lamberth, the panel's two conservative judges. U.S. District Judge Richard W. Roberts, a nominee of president Clinton, was more focused on the legal test Bopp was asking the judges to conduct.
The judges did not rule from the bench, but said they would try to rule on the matter quickly.