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On April 30, 1997, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan granted the FEC's motion to dismiss this case. The suit, seeking $249 trillion in damages, was filed in February 1997, by Alfonzo Jones, a Detroit resident who said, among other things, that the FEC acted contrary to law in not certifying him for public financing for the 1996 presidential campaign.
The court found that Mr. Jones failed to allege any facts in his suit that indicated that the Commission had illegally failed to provide him with public funds.
Source: FEC Record -- June 1997 [PDF].
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment to the FEC on May 27, 1994, upholding the agency's dismissal of an administrative complaint filed by Absalom F. Jordan, Jr., against Handgun Control, Inc.
On November 3, 1995, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit remanded the case to the district court. The court of appeals instructed the district court to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction because Mr. Jordan had failed to file suit within 60 days after the FEC dismissed his complaint.
The district court dismissed the case on January 23, 1996.
In his complaint, Mr. Jordan claimed that Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI) had violated the law by soliciting contributions from individuals who did not qualify as "members" because they lacked sufficient rights to participate in the governance of HCI.
Mr. Jordan 's complaint raised the same membership issue as a succession of complaints filed against HCI by the National Rifle Association (NRA) between 1983 and 1992. The first NRA complaint resulted in a conciliation agreement requiring HCI to pay a civil penalty and to amend its bylaws to establish voting rights for its members.
Three more NRA complaints challenging HCI membership were dismissed by the FEC, which had already concluded that HCI members, under the new bylaws, had sufficient governance rights through their ability to vote for an at-large board member. The FEC's dismissals of the third and fourth complaints were affirmed by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
In dismissing the Jordan complaint, the FEC stated that his claims were "substantially similar" to those in the four NRA complaints, which had already been "conclusively resolved."
Definition of Member
Until recently, FEC regulations defined member simply as a person who satisfied the requirements for membership, but FEC advisory opinions had refined the term to mean persons who had some right to participate in the organization's governance and the obligation to pay regular dues.1 This reading was based on the Supreme Court's decision in FEC v. National Right to Work Committee (NRWC), 459 U.S. 197 (1982). The agency determined that HCI member's voting rights, under the new bylaws, were sufficient to satisfy this definition when the issue arose in three more NRA complaints.
Mr. Jordan challenged that interpretation, claiming that HCI's members were not solicitable because they lacked the power to remove management. He based his argument on the NRWC holding that members should be defined "at least in part, by analogy to stockholders of a business corporation."
District Court Ruling
Finding the FEC's definition of member to be reasonable, the court pointed out that, while the NRWC Court said that there had to be "some" attachment between the organization and its membership, that Court "certainly did not require that members be provided with the opportunity to seize total control of the organization, as plaintiff argue[d]."
Furthermore, the court said the FEC's refusal even to consider Mr. Jordan 's claims was neither arbitrary nor capricious but, instead, made "perfect sense," considering that the agency had already conclusively resolved the HCI membership issue. The court said that a "scrupulous adherence to precedent is hardly arbitrary."
Court of Appeals Ruling
The court of appeals noted that the FEC dismissed Mr. Jordan 's complaint on July 24, 1991, and that Mr. Jordan did not file suit with the district court until September 25, 1991. Under 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(B), a petition to review an FEC decision to dismiss an administrative complaint must be filed within 60 days after the date of dismissal. The court ruled that the 60-day period began when the Commission voted to dismiss the complaint, and not on the date of the FEC's letter informing Mr. Jordan of the dismissal. When Mr. Jordan received the FEC's letter informing him of the dismissal, he had 53 days left on the 60-day limit in which to file a suit. He did not file suit with the district court until 63 days after the FEC voted to dismiss his complaint. As a result, the court of appeals ruled that the courts lacked jurisdiction to review this case. On January 23, 1996, the district court carried out the appeals court's instructions to dismiss this case.
Source: FEC Record -- August 1994, p. 9; and April 1996 [PDF].
Jordan v. FEC, No. 91-2428 (NHJ) (D.D.C. Feb. 25, 1993); (D.D.C. May 27, 1994) (opinion); No. 94-5216 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 3, 1995).
Keith Judd, a Texas resident and registered Presidential candidate in 2000, asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to find that the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act is unconstitutional and to award him public funding for the election equal to that awarded President Bill Clinton during his 1996 reelection effort. On April 9, 1998 , the court dismissed Mr. Judd's petition for lack of prosecution.
On August 20, 1998, the appeals court denied Mr. Judd's motion to have the court reexamine its decision to dismiss this case for lack of prosecution.
On November 4, 1998, the court denied Mr. Judd's request for a rehearing and a rehearing en banc of the court's decision to dismiss the case.
On February 22, 1999, the court denied a motion by Mr. Judd to vacate its ruling in the case.
On July 2, 1998, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the FEC's motion to dismiss this lawsuit challenging the agency's dismissal of an administrative complaint filed by Judicial Watch, Inc. The court remanded the case to the FEC and ordered it to decide whether to pursue the administrative complaint within 120 days.
On May 7, 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the lower court ruling and dismissed this case.
In February 1998, Judicial Watch filed this lawsuit after the Commission voted to take no action on its administrative complaint, which alleged that the White House, Democratic National Committee (DNC), Department of Commerce and Clinton administration had sold seats on foreign trade missions for large campaign contributions to the DNC and the Clinton/Gore 1996 reelection campaign. Judicial Watch contended that the contributions violated 18 U.S.C. §600, a criminal statute which makes it unlawful to promise any special benefit or treatment as a reward for political activities in support of or opposition to a particular candidate, election or political event.
District Court Decision
The FEC moved to dismiss this case for lack of standing. In order to establish standing, a plaintiff such as Judicial Watch must show that it has suffered an injury in fact, that there is a causal connection between the injury and the conduct being complained about and that it is likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. The FEC claimed that Judicial Watch failed to allege an injury flowing from the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act).
The court disagreed. It pointed out that, in FEC v. Akins, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that, for purposes of standing, an injury was created when a plaintiff failed to obtain information that had to be publicly disclosed. Thus, affected voters who do not have access to such information have standing to sue. The district court held that, in this case, information that trade mission seats may have been exchanged for contributions to the DNC and Clinton/Gore committee was "important and useful to voters."
The FEC also argued that Judicial Watch did not have standing because its administrative complaint failed to identify violations of the Act over which the Commission had jurisdiction. The complaint only made allegations of bribery, not of reporting violations. The court stated, however, that no plaintiff is required to supply the FEC with a "legal theory" under the Act in order for the agency to pursue an administrative complaint. "At minimum, the FEC, as an agency acting in the public interest, should not interpret complaints narrowly," the court stated.
The court went on to note that the matters outlined in the administrative complaint could raise reporting issues. The court said a contribution in exchange for participation in trade missions could be classified as an offset to a contribution, a refund of a contribution or a disbursement. The DNC and Clinton/Gore committee might have had an obligation to report such transactions.
The court further noted that the FEC failed to notify Judicial Watch that its administrative complaint was technically deficient, as is required by 11 CFR 111.5. The court also stated that, "If . the allegations were not within its prosecutorial jurisdiction, the FEC should have referred the matter to the Department of Justice or the appropriate agency."
The court also dismissed the FEC's argument that a huge backlog of cases at the agency requires it to dismiss administrative complaints such as the one filed by Judicial Watch without investigating them because of a lack of financial and human resources. The court said the FEC should have raised this issue in the administrative proceedings.
Appeals Court Decision
The appeals court found that Judicial Watch lacked standing to challenge the FEC's decision to dismiss an administrative complaint it filed with the agency.
In its memorandum opinion, the appellate court concluded that Judicial Watch failed to show that it suffered an injury stemming from the FEC's dismissal of its administrative complaint. The court said it was too late for Judicial Watch now to argue that its complaint should be read to allege reporting violations, and that the FEC's dismissal deprived the group and its members of information to which they are entitled. In Common Cause v. FEC, the appeals court had found that, if an organization has simply been "deprived of the knowledge as to whether a violation of the law has occurred," then its injury is no more than a general "interest in enforcement of the law" and not sufficient for standing.1
The court noted that Judicial Watch failed to make even a nominal allegation of reporting violations in its complaint. If, however, Judicial Watch has a viable claim of reporting violations, the court stated that it should file a new complaint with the FEC asserting those violations.
The appellate court also agreed with the FEC that the district court erred in granting summary judgment for Judicial Watch on the merits before the FEC had answered the complaint.
1 Common Cause v. FEC, 108 F.3d 413 (D.C. Cir. 1997)
On February 17, 2005, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the FEC’s motion for summary judgment in this case, and denied the plaintiff’s cross motion for summary judgment.
On August 17, 2001, Judicial Watch, Inc., a nonprofit, public interest organization, asked the court to find that the Commission acted contrary to law when it failed to initiate an investigation in response to the organization’s administrative complaint. The April 10, 2001, complaint alleged that Representative Tom DeLay and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) sold meetings with top Bush Administration officials in exchange for campaign contributions to the NRCC. Judicial Watch contended that the NRCC was required to report these meetings to the Commission as “offsets to contributions” under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act). 2 U.S.C. §434(b)(4) and 11 CFR 104.3.
The standard for judicial review in a case such as this, where one party alleges that an agency’s actions are contrary to the statute, is called Chevron review, after the Supreme Court’s decision in Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1984). In Chevron review, the court asks first whether Congress has spoken to the precise issue at hand. If so, then the agency’s interpretation of the statute must implement Congress’s unambiguous intent. If, however, Congress has not spoken explicitly to the question at hand, then the court must defer to the agency’s interpretation of the statute if the interpretation is reasonable and is consistent with the statute’s purpose.
In its arguments before the court, the Commission explained that, since its inception in 1975, it has interpreted the statutory requirement of reporting “offsets” to contributions in its strict accounting sense as referring only to financial transactions. Thus, the Commission did not find that the NRCC was required by the Act to report the meetings described in Judicial Watch’s administrative complaint as “offsets” to contributions.
In looking at the language at 2 U.S.C. §434(b)(4), the court found that Congress had not spoken directly to the issue of whether this statutory requirement was meant also to include other non-monetary offsets, such as the alleged contributions-for-access scheme detailed in the plaintiff’s administrative complaint. Furthermore, the court found that the Commission’s interpretation of the statute was not unreasonable, and the “FEC’s decision not to further investigate Judicial Watch’s administrative complaint with regard to section 434(b)(4)(F) was therefore neither contrary to law, arbitrary, capricious, nor an abuse of discretion.”
The plaintiffs had also challenged the Commission’s decision not to investigate beyond the scope of possible violations of this particular provision of the statute, as well as its decision not to report to other law enforcement agencies some or all of the alleged illegal activity described in the administrative complaint. The court, however, found that it is within the FEC’s discretion to determine whether a violation of the Act has occurred, and only then is it directed to conduct an investigation. Furthermore, the court found that while the Commission can refer apparent violations of the law to other law enforcement agencies, such action “is clearly not mandated by the statute and failure to report does not constitute an abuse of discretion.”
On August 30, 2003, the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment in this case.1 The court found that the plaintiff, Peter F. Paul, lacked standing to seek judicial relief in this instance because he had suffered no injury and that Judicial Watch, Inc., was precluded from bringing suit against the Commission because it was not a party to the administrative complaint underlying the court complaint.
On December 7, 2001, Judicial Watch, a non-profit, public interest organization, and Mr. Paul, an alleged donor to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senatorial campaign committee (the Committee), asked the court to find that the Commission acted contrary to law when it failed to respond to an administrative complaint filed by Mr. Paul, who was represented by Judicial Watch. The administrative complaint, filed July 16, 2001, alleged that the Committee violated the Federal Election Campaign Act's (the Act) contribution limits by accepting cash and in-kind contributions from Mr. Paul totaling nearly $2 million. 2 U.S.C. §441a and 11 CFR 110.1 and 110.9. The administrative complaint further alleged that the Committee failed to report the contributions. 2 U.S.C. §434(b) and 11 CFR 104.3. Before the court, Mr. Paul and Judicial Watch claimed that the Commission failed to act on the complaint within 120 days, as required by the Act, and that this failure caused them "informational injury" because they were deprived of information they sought when the administrative complaint was filed. See 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A).
Parties to the complaint
Under the Act, a party that files an administrative complaint with the Commission may file a petition with the court if the Commission dismisses or fails to act on an administrative complaint. 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A). Thus, while the Act provides for some judicial review of Commission administrative actions, the plain language of the statute also makes clear that this relief is only available to parties to the administrative complaint.
In this case, Mr. Paul was the only person listed as a party to the administrative complaint filed with the Commission. The complaint was printed on Judicial Watch letterhead, but Judicial Watch identified Mr. Paul as its "client" and did not mention that it was also a party to the complaint. Mr. Paul was the only party who signed the complaint. The court determined that Judicial Watch only acted as counsel to Mr. Paul and not as a party to the administrative complaint. As a result, Judicial Watch is barred from seeking judicial relief in this case.
In order to have standing to bring a case in federal court, the plaintiff must satisfy a three-part test. The plaintiff must:
- Suffer an "injury in fact"-that is, an invasion of an interest that is concrete and particularized and also actual or imminent rather than just hypothetical;
- Show that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct; and
- Show that the injury is likely to be redressed by the relief that the plaintiff requests.
Mr. Paul argued that he suffered injury in fact because:
- He was deprived of information regarding Senator Clinton's alleged campaign finance reporting violations as they pertained to his contributions;
- He may be a future defendant in any possible FEC investigation of these alleged violations and has been deprived of information that might help him in his defense; and
- The Commission's delay in acting on his administrative complaint is in itself an injury.
The court found that Mr. Paul did not, as a result of being denied this information, suffer an injury that granted him standing to bring suit against the Commission. The court determined that because Mr. Paul was already aware of the facts underlying his own alleged contributions to the campaign, he was really seeking a legal determination by the Commission that Senator Clinton violated the Act. In a previous court case, the D.C. Circuit Court determined that a plaintiff does not satisfy the standing requirement if the information withheld is only the fact that a violation of the Act has occurred. See Common Cause v. FEC, 108 F.3d 418.
Moreover, the court disagreed with Mr. Paul's claim that he suffered an informational injury because he is unable to use information from an FEC investigation to amass his defense against a possible future enforcement action. The court found that this purported injury was merely speculative, and Mr. Paul had "not suffered an injury in fact by being deprived of information that may assist his defense in a possible FEC investigation." Finally, the court found that Mr. Paul had suffered only a procedural injury as a result of the Commission's failure to meet the 120-day deadline.2
Having concluded that Judicial Watch was not a party to this case and that Mr. Paul did not have standing to bring suit in this matter, the court granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff's case with prejudice.
1 The court may grant summary judgment when there
is "no genuine dispute of material fact" and "the moving party is entitled
to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
2 Having found that Mr. Paul lacked standing because he did not suffer an injury in fact, the court did not address the Commission's argument that Mr. Paul was precluded from bringing suit under the fugitive disentitlement doctrine because he is a fugitive from justice from charges pending in federal court in New York.