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Alliance for Democracy v. FEC (1:04CV00127)


On February 28, 2005, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the Commission’s motion to dismiss this case, finding that the plaintiffs lacked standing. The Alliance for Democracy, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group, Hedy Epstein and Ben Kjelshus (collectively the plaintiffs) had filed a complaint January 26, 2004, alleging that the Commission wrongfully dismissed the central allegations of the plaintiffs' administrative complaint against the Spirit of America PAC (SOA) and Ashcroft 2000.


SOA was established in 1996 and John Ashcroft served as its chairman. In March 2001, the plaintiffs filed an administrative complaint with the Commission, designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 5181, alleging that SOA unlawfully donated a fundraising list of approximately 100,000 donors to Ashcroft 2000, Mr. Ashcroft's 2000 Senate campaign committee, and that the two committees failed to disclose the donation of the list or its value. According to the administrative complaint, the donation of the fundraising list constituted a contribution under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and exceeded the Act's contribution limits. 2 U.S.C. §431(8). The administrative complaint further alleged that SOA and Ashcroft 2000 violated the Act by failing to report the contribution of the fundraising list in their FEC reports. See 2 U.S.C. §§441a(a)(2)(a), 441a(f) and 434(b). On December 11, 2003, the FEC closed the investigation of the administrative complaint with a conciliation agreement that includes a $37,000 civil penalty for violations stemming from the transfer of list rental income.[1]

Court complaint

The complaint alleged that the Commission failed to find probable cause to believe that the transfer of the mailing list constituted an in-kind contribution, or that the value of the list had to be reported as a contribution. The Commission also did not find probable cause as to Ashcroft 2000's use of the list or Ashcroft 2000's receipt of list rental income from its own rental of the list. The plaintiffs also alleged that the list's value far exceeds the $112,962 in excessive contributions found by the Commission.

The plaintiffs alleged in their court complaint that the FEC's "dismissal of the central allegations of the administrative complaint, and its approval of the transfer of the funding list from the Spirit of America PAC to Ashcroft 2000 and the non-reporting of the transfer, are arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law and a clear abuse of the agency's discretion." The plaintiffs also alleged that the Commission's failure to find excessive contributions and reporting violations based on the illegal donation of the fundraising list is based on an impermissible interpretation of the Act. See 2 U.S.C. §§431(8)(A)(i), 432(b), 434(b) 441a(a)(2)(A) and 441a(f).

Court decision

In order to have standing in court, the plaintiffs must show an “injury-in-fact” that is fairly traceable to the challenged actions of the defendant and is likely to be redressed by a favorable decision by the court. In this case, the plaintiffs claimed that they suffered an “informational injury” resulting from SOA’s and Ashcroft 2000’s failure to report the exact value of the mailing list in question. However, the court found that, because the Commission has already made public all of the information that it is statutorily required to disclose regarding MUR 5181, the plaintiffs have not suffered an informational injury based on the Commission’s actions. The court granted the Commission’s motion to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.


[1] The conciliation agreement and supporting documents are available through the FEC's Enforcement Query System.

Source:   FEC RecordApril 2005; March 2004


District Court (DC)

Court decisions: