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Vroom v. FEC

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Vroom v. FEC
Case Summary

Background

On January 27, 2012, Peter J. Vroom filed a complaint in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. Mr. Vroom’s complaint challenges the Commission’s decision to dismiss an administrative complaint he had filed with the Commission concerning AO 2009-18, the disaffiliation of Penske Truck Leasing’s SSF (Penske PAC) and General Electric Company Political Action Committee (GEPAC). Mr. Vroom’s administrative complaint stated that Penske remained completely dependent upon GE for its financial survival, and that because GE remained the “control party” in the Penske Truck Leasing Joint Venture, the FEC should have denied disaffiliation of their separate segregated funds.

Mr. Vroom’s court complaint alleges that the FEC did not examine his supporting documentation before dismissing his administrative complaint. This supporting documentation included mainly a copy of his November 1, 2010, complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in which he alleged that GE’s March 2009 deconsolidation of Penske from its balance sheet was illegally accomplished through a series of prior loans from GE to Penske.

Mr. Vroom further alleges that the FEC’s decision to grant disaffiliation to GEPAC and Penske PAC was unprecedented because of the “razor thin” joint venture ownership ratio of 50.1% and 49.9% between their connected organizations. According to Mr. Vroom’s court filing, no organization having more than a 40% outside interest was ever granted disaffiliation by the FEC.

Mr. Vroom’s court complaint asks that the District Court instruct the Commission to reconsider his complete complaint and to apply FEC precedent and factors of affiliation to determine the affiliation status of GEPAC and Penske PAC, or to issue a declaratory judgment that GEPAC and Penske PAC are in fact affiliated.

Court Decision

On June 28, 2013, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed Peter J. Vroom’s amended complaint, concluding that he lacked standing to challenge the Commission’s dismissal of his administrative complaint.

The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) permits any person who believes the law has been violated to file a complaint with the FEC and, subsequently, to seek judicial review if they believe the Commission dismissed the complaint unlawfully. 2 U.S.C. §437g. The Act itself, however, does not confer standing under Article III of the Constitution. To have standing, the plaintiff must have suffered an “injury in fact” that is traceable to the defendant’s action or inaction and is “likely” to be “redressed by a favorable decision.” Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 560, 660-61 (1992). Allegations of “informational injury” can provide the requisite injury-in-fact for standing; that is, when the action or inaction of the Commission deprives voters of information that would help them evaluate candidates for office, those voters may have standing to complain. Federal Election Commission v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11, 21 (1998).

The Court dismissed Mr. Vroom’s complaint because it did not identify any information not currently available that would be made available were GEPAC and Penske PAC no longer disaffiliated. In fact, Mr. Vroom relied upon the FEC’s public data for GEPAC and Penske PAC to argue that the Commission erred in its decision. Absent an injury in fact, the Court determined Mr. Vroom lacked standing to bring the suit.

Source:   FEC Record -- September 2013; March 2013.

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District Court (DC)

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