Not Really a Problem of Agency Discretion

July 1, 2014
posted by Bob Bauer
Troubled as always that the government might be dabbling in politics, George Will wrote this last week about the Patent Office cancellation of the “Redskins” trademark registration. His larger point is that once the government has the discretion to jump into political debates, it may choose those occasions that suit its political or ideological preferences. Citing Jonathan Turley,  he gives an example from campaign finance: the FEC’s exercise of discretion in approving the financing of Michael Moore's documentary about George W. Bush, Fahrenheit 911, while disapproving Citizen United’s now-famous documentary about Hillary Clinton.
Is Bill Maher proposing to cross the line from press commentary into campaign activity, or is he merely innovating, as the press is  scrambling everywhere to do, and preparing for a New Wave Editorial?  As Rick Pildes suggests, this question is mooted by Citizens United, which means that HBO and Maher can count on this decision to provide him much of the space he may need for his editorial project. Prior to Citizens United, HBO would have struggled to defend this program; in the wake of the decision, the path is generally clear, depending on how Maher produces the show.