David Bossie used to be just another familiar face at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Now he's the life of the party.
Bossie is the founder and president of Citizens United, which writes, directs, produces and markets conservative-themed films and which last month won a landmark Supreme Court case against the U.S. government.
The Court ruled in Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission that government limits on corporate-funded, independent political broadcasts during elections constituted a violation of free speech.
The victory, everyone agrees, will change the face of federal campaign financing. And it's made Bossie a rock star at the CPAC. “The impact for me and for Citizens United has been, clearly, the public relations bonanza,” he says. “When I say I’m from Citizens United, people know.”
The case formed after Citizens United wanted to pay to air "Hillary: the Movie," a critical biopic of Hillary Clinton, on a cable pay-per-view system during her 2008 bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. But under the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA), Citizens United, which takes in both corporate and private funding, was barred from airing the film just before the primaries.
The Court, in its 5-4 decision, ruled that Citizens United's right to purchase the time to play its film during the primary was protected by the First Amendment. But more importantly, it also struck down the BCRA provision that prevented non-profits, corporations and unions from buying advertising within 30 days before a presidential primary and 60 days before a general election.
As a result, walls governing how groups and corporations give to campaigns have crumbled. For Citizens United, which has produced 14 films, the decision was both a ratification and a chance, for the first time, to “go national.”
“We’re not a young group – we’ve had our spikes in recognition throughout the years,” Bossie said. “However, this has clearly given us a tremendous amount of personal motivation…. He said “it elevates the organization” from a familiar staple in the conservative movement to a national figure and a part of history.
Bossie said he expects the ruling to bring in more private donors, which is how the non-profit gets its $20 million to $25 million annual budget. He said the “corporate” donations at the center of the original lawsuit amounted to “three one-thousand-dollar checks” – hardly a drop in the bucket, but enough to trigger the regulations under BCRA.
But not everyone believes the court's ruling will be good for America.
Though most Republican officials expressed support, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who helped to co-author the original campaign finance reform law, said he was “disappointed,” and he declared campaign reform was now “dead.” He also predicted a public backlash when special-interest money starts infecting the election process.
Democrats have been less subtle. “The bottom line is, the Supreme Court has just predetermined the winners of next November’s election,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It won’t be the Republican or the Democrats and it won't be the American people; it will be corporate America.”
Still others have questioned the non-profit status of Citizens United, charging that "Hillary: the Movie" -– which was given a spotlight during the 2008 CPAC -- was nothing more than an attempt to hurt Clinton's campaign.
But conservatives like Bossie aren’t thinking about that. They are thinking about pressing forward with more movies, more creative ways to influence the political climate. The movies are selling, he claims, with a handful enjoying a screening at the three-day event.
“Winning this case, it changes who we are as an organization, how we will operate, how we will proceed,” he said from the exhibit hall at CPAC, in between friendly exchanges with well-wishers. "This is kind of a nice, comfortable atmosphere for us."