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Albanese v. FEC


On March 12, 1996, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss this case for lack of standing.


This suit was brought by Sal Albanese, who chose not to challenge Representative Susan Molinari in 1994 after his unsuccessful attempt to unseat her in 1992, and on behalf of a number of his supporters.

In their original suit, plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the federal electoral system on the grounds that it financially handicapped campaigns to unseat an incumbent, thus discouraging potential candidacies. In an amended complaint, they specifically challenged the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act)—alleging that it authorizes the use of private monies in federal elections-and the franking privileges enjoyed by incumbents.

District court ruling

In determining that plaintiffs lacked standing to bring this suit, the court applied the three-part test for standing; this test requires plaintiffs to identify (1) an actual injury that (2) is caused by the challenged act and (3) is likely to be redressed by the relief requested. The court found that plaintiffs in this case failed all three parts of this test.

Plaintiffs failed the first part because plaintiffs represented a potential candidate and supporters of his would-be campaign, rendering their alleged injury "abstract and conjectural." For instance, their alleged injury that large contributors diminish the influence of those who cannot give as much was "abstract and remote" in this case since the campaign that plaintiffs wished to support did not exist.

Plaintiffs failed the second part because, since their alleged injury was theoretical, they could not provide tangible evidence that the injury was caused by the Act. The court noted, "We will never know how much money might have been contributed to [Albanese's campaign] and how successful he might have been at the polls . . . ." The court further stated that, "Albanese opted not to participate in the election process; he was not prevented from doing so." The alleged injuries, therefore, were not traceable to the Act.

Lastly, plaintiffs failed the third part because their suggested remedy-to declare the Act unconstitutional-would not redress the injury. The court stated, "[If] plaintiffs' goal is to eliminate the contribution of private funds to politicians and thereby level the electoral playing field, declaring the [Act]-a statute which limits such contributions-unconstitutional cannot be said to redress plaintiffs' injury."

Additionally, the court cited Buckley v. Valeo as a legal precedent upholding the constitutionality of the Act, and several other court decisions similarly upholding the constitutionality of the franking statute.

In closing, the court declared that it was outside its jurisdiction to address the plaintiffs' grievance, and that plaintiffs had to seek relief through the legislative and executive branches of government: "To the extent that the plaintiffs believe that a modification of the process would enhance its integrity, they must make the case for the validity of that belief with the political branches of our government. For just as fundamental to the political order of this democracy is the doctrine of separation of powers and the limited jurisdiction conferred upon the federal judiciary within that political order."

Source: FEC Record— May 1996; and July 1995. Albanese v. FEC, 884 F. Supp. 685 (E.D.N.Y. 1995), aff'd, 78 F.3d 66 (2d Cir. 1996).