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Campaign Legal Center, et al. v. FEC, et al.
On June 7, 2018, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the Commission’s exercise of its prosecutorial discretion when it declined to investigate three administrative complaints alleging that corporate and other entities had been used in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (the Act’s) prohibition on making contributions in the name of another person. The court concluded that the Commission’s dismissals of the administrative complaints were not contrary to law and granted summary judgment for the FEC and the intervenor-defendants.
Background and Challenge to Dismissal of Administrative
The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) expressly prohibits any person from making a "contribution in the name of another" or knowingly permitting his or her name to be used to effect such a contribution, and further provides that no person shall knowingly accept a contribution made by one person in the name of another person. 52 U.S.C. § 30122. The Commission's regulations state that examples of a contribution in the name of another include "giving money, or anything of value, all or part of which was provided to the contributor by another person (the true contributor) without disclosing the source of the money..." and "making a contribution of money or anything of value and attributing as the source of the money or thing of value another person when in fact the contributor is the source." 11 CFR 110.4(b)(2).
The plaintiffs had filed five sworn administrative complaints with the Commission against various entities and individuals alleging that they had violated the Act by using so-called "straw donors," including limited liability companies (LLCs), to make contributions in the name of another, thereby evading the Act's disclosure requirements. Further, the plaintiffs alleged that some of the entities that made contributions qualified as "political committees" under the Act, which would have required them to register with the Commission and file periodic disclosure reports of receipts and disbursements. See 52 U.S.C. §§ 30101(4) and 30104(b). (Note that entities which do not make contributions to candidates and only make independent expenditures may register as "independent expenditure-only" political committees (commonly referred to as "Super PACs") and accept unlimited contributions (including contributions from corporations and labor organizations).)
The first complaint, which was designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6485 by the Commission, was against W Spann LLC. The plaintiffs allege that the LLC was used as a conduit to hide the true source of a $1 million dollar contribution to a political action committee called Restore Our Future, which was supporting a then-presidential candidate in 2011. The plaintiffs allege that a single individual formed W Spann LLC for the sole purpose of concealing his contribution to Restore Our Future.
The second and third complaints, MURs 6487 and 6488, involved two LLCs that the plaintiffs allege were used as conduits to "hide the true source of two $1 million contributions to Restore Our Future" in 2011. The plaintiffs contend that a single individual made the contributions through the LLCs.
The fourth complaint, MUR 6711, alleged that an individual contributed more than $12 million to a Super PAC named FreedomWorks for America using the names of a corporation and an LLC established solely to make such contributions.
The final complaint, designated as MUR 6930, also involved allegations that
contributions were made to a Super PAC from an LLC in order to hide the true
source of the donors.
In their court challenge, the plaintiffs alleged that the Commission’s dismissal of the complaints effectively denied them access to complete and accurate information concerning the campaign contributions. The Commission argued that the plaintiffs’ lacked standing to pursue their court challenge because, among other things, the plaintiffs already had all relevant information about the contributions in question and had suffered no injury as a result of the Commission’s dismissal of the five complaints.
District Court Decisions
The court agreed with the Commission’s argument that the plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the dismissal of two of their administrative complaints. In the first complaint (MUR 6485), the Super PAC that received the $1 million contribution has since amended its public reports to make clear that the individual and not the LLC had made the contribution. Since the contribution at issue has been publicly reported, the court stated that "it is not clear what additional information [the] plaintiffs seek." The court also noted that the issue in the second administrative complaint (MUR 6930) was similar in that the plaintiffs argue that an individual rather than an LLC should have been reported as the true source of the contributions in question. Since the plaintiffs do not contend that the LLC should register and file reports as a political committee, the court stated that "the Commission’s dismissal has not deprived them of the information that would normally be obtained by that route." The court held that plaintiffs "failure to obtain that legal determination is not an informational injury." The court thus found plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the Commission’s decisions in MURs 6485 and 6930.
With respect to the remaining three administrative complaints at issue in the case however, the court held that the plaintiffs did have standing and had incurred informational injuries because they were denied information concerning the contributions in each case: "From the publicly available portions of the administrative record cited in plaintiffs’ opposition, it is clear that the Commission’s General Counsel did not believe it knew the entire story about the contributions identified in these three administrative complaints. If the General Counsel did not know the whole story then, there is little reason to believe that plaintiffs know it now. Under the Act, plaintiffs have ‘a right to truthful information regarding campaign contributions and expenditures.’"
The court ultimately held that the plaintiffs had adequately alleged informational injuries in connection with the contributions identified in three of their dismissed administrative complaints; that those injuries are traceable to the Commission’s dismissal "without requiring any of the alleged straw donors to register as political committees under the Act"; and that those injuries are likely to be redressed by a favorable court decision.
The court further held that plaintiffs need not also establish "organizational standing." The court found that the plaintiffs already established informational standing, and that "there is no reason to doubt their claims that the information would be helpful to them." The court thus concluded that the plaintiffs had standing to pursue the portions of their challenge that relate to the remaining three dismissed administrative complaints.
On June 7, 2018, the court upheld the Commission’s exercise of its prosecutorial discretion when it declined to investigate three administrative complaints alleging that corporate and other entities had been used in violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (the Act’s) prohibition on making contributions in the name of another person. The court noted the controlling Commissioners concerns of fair notice, due process, confusing Commission precedent, and the obligation to protect First Amendment speech and found that these concerns constituted a rational basis for the controlling Commissioners’ decision to dismiss the complaints. As a result, the court concluded the dismissal of the complaints was not contrary to law. The Plaintiffs also challenged the controlling Commissioners’ prospective standard as “arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to law.” The court found that this challenge was not ripe as the Commission has not applied this standard or formally adopted it and granted the Commission’s motion for summary judgment.
Court Decisions and Related Documents
Court Decisions :
- Order (denying motion for summary affirmance) (6/4/19) [PDF; 1 page]
Related Documents :
- Reply Brief of Plaintiffs-Appellants Campaign Legal Center and Democracy 21 (9/5/19) [PDF; 74 pages]
- Brief for the Federal Election Commission (8/14/19) [PDF; 74 pages]
- Brief of Intervenors-Appellees F8, LLC, Eli Publishing, L.C. and Steven J. Lund (8/14/19) [PDF; 54 pages]
- Brief of Amicus Curiae CREW in Support of Plaintiffs-Appellants (7/22/19) [PDF; 40 pages]
- Opening Brief of Plaintiffs-Appellants CLC and Democracy 21 (7/15/19) [PDF; 80 pages]
- FEC's Reply in Support of its Motion for Summary Affirmance (10/25/18) [PDF; 19 pages]
- Plaintiffs-Appellants' Response in Opposition to Appellee's Motion for Summary Affirmance (10/11/18) [PDF; 32 pages]
- Federal Election Commission's Motion for Summary Affirmance (9/24/18) [PDF; 27 pages]
Court Decisions :
- Memorandum Opinion (6/7/18) [PDF; 21 pages]
- Order (6/7/18) [PDF; 1 page]
- Memorandum Opinion (3/29/17) [PDF; 14 pages]
- Order (3/29/17) [PDF; 1 page]
Related Documents :
- Notice of Appeal (8/8/18) [PDF; 33 pages]
- Defendant FEC's Reply in Support of its Motions for Summary Judgment (11/9/17) [PDF; 32 pages]
- Intervenor-Defendants' Reply Memorandum in Support of their Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment (10/27/17) [PDF; 25 pages]
- Plaintiffs' Reply Memorandum in Support of their Motion for Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Opposition to Defendants' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment (10/2/17) [PDF; 47 pages]
- FEC's Motion for Summary Judgment (8/21/17) [PDF; 48 pages]
- Intervenor-Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (8/21/17) [PDF; 39 pages]
- FEC's Notice of Filing of Amended Certified List of Contents of the Administrative Record in MUR 6711 (8/21/17) [PDF; 1 page]
- Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment (7/10/17) [PDF; 57 pages]
- Defendant FEC's Certified List of Contents of the Administrative Records in MUR 6711 (5/12/17) [PDF; 10 pages]
- Defendant FEC's Certified List of Contents of the Administrative Records in MUR 6488 (5/12/17) [PDF; 6 pages]
- Defendant FEC's Certified List of Contents of the Administrative Records in MUR 6487 (5/12/17) [PDF; 6 pages]
- Defendant FEC's Notice of Filing of Certified Lists of Contents of the Administrative Records in MUR 6487, 6488, and 6711 (5/12/17) [PDF; 2 pages]
- FEC's Reply In Support of its Motion to Dismiss (8/26/16) [PDF; 19 pages]
- Plaintiffs' Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (8/2/16) [PDF; 53 pages]
- FEC's Motion to Dismiss (7/1/16) [PDF; 32 pages]
- Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (4/22/16) [PDF; 22 pages]