Antosh v. FEC (84-3048)
On December 21, 1984, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in James Antosh v. FEC (Civil Action No. 84-3048). The court found that the Commission's dismissal of an administrative complaint Mr. Antosh had filed with the FEC was contrary to law. On the same day, therefore, the court issued an order requiring the Commission to vacate its determination in the administrative complaint and to "reopen [the complaint] for further proceedings consistent with the court's opinion."
On July 1, 1987, the court denied Mr. Antosh's petition for award of attorneys' fees and costs incurred by him in the same suit.
In filing his complaint with the FEC in May 1984, Mr. Antosh had alleged that:
- Engineers Political Education Committee/International Union of Operating Engineers (EPEC/IUOE) and Supporters of Engineers Local 3 Federal Endorsed Candidates (SELFEC), the separate segregated funds of the International Union of Operating Engineers and Engineers Local 3, had violated 2 U.S.C. §441(a)(2)(A) by making contributions in excess of $5,000 to the 1982 primary campaign of Thomas P. Lantos, a Congressional candidate, and Mr. Lantos' principal campaign committee;
- Mr. Lantos and his principal campaign committee had, in turn, violated 2 U.S.C. §441a(f) by knowingly accepting the excessive contributions (totaling $3,600); and
- Mr. Lantos, his campaign treasurer and his principal campaign committee had violated Commission regulations by failing to report the excessive contributions accurately. See 11 CFR 104.14(d).
In a report submitted to the FEC in July 1984, the General Counsel noted, however, that based on an affidavit and a letter submitted by the respondents, of the $3,600 alleged to be excess contributions to the 1982 primary, $3,100 had in fact been designated for retiring debts of Mr. Lantos' 1980 general election campaign. The General Counsel therefore concluded that the two union PACs had made excessive contributions of $500 to Mr. Lantos' 1982 primary campaign rather than $3,600. Accordingly, the General Counsel recommended that "due to the small amount in question" (i.e., excessive contributions of $500), the Commission should find reason to believe that the respondents had violated the Act, but take no further action. The Commission followed the General Counsel's recommendations and closed the file on Matter Under Review (MUR) 1719.
In October 1984 Mr. Antosh petitioned the district court to take action against the FEC for dismissing his administrative complaint.
The district court's ruling
The court noted that in determining whether an agency's determinations were "arbitrary and capricious," the court's standard of review had to be "a highly deferential one...which presumes the agency's action to be valid." In the case of Mr. Antosh's complaint, however, the court found a "problem in the Commission's treatment of this matter." Specifically, although EPEC/IUOE had designated $3,100 for retiring the Lantos committee's 1980 general election debt, committee reports indicated the contributions had been made during May and June 1981, several weeks after the committee had apparently extinguished the 1980 debt in mid-April 1981.
The court concluded that "the Commission dismissed MUR 1719 because it only involved violations of $500.... The violations in fact appear to involve considerably more money, and are thus more egregious than the Commission realized. For these reasons, the Commission's dismissal of MUR 1719 was arbitrary and capricious and, thus, contrary to law." See 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8).
Attorneys' fees and costs
The Equal Access to Justice Act states that only those courts which have jurisdiction over the underlying civil action may consider whether to award attorney's fees and costs to a prevailing party. Upon examination of its jurisdiction over the original suit, the district court concluded that, in fact, Mr. Antosh did not have standing to bring it. Consequently, the court could not grant plaintiff's petition for award of costs and attorneys' fees.
Under Article III of the Constitution, in order to have standing to sue, an aggrieved party must "show that he personally suffered some actual or threatened injury as a result of the putatively illegal conduct of the respondent..." (i.e., the Lantos campaign). Since Mr. Antosh was an Oklahoma resident, the court concluded that he would not be injured by a California candidate's acceptance of excessive contributions. "Plaintiff's interest in the California election is no different from the interest of any citizen who wishes to ensure that candidates abide by the rules that govern elections," the court said. The court noted that this conclusion was the same as that reached by the court in July 1986 in a "virtually identical" suit brought by Mr. Antosh against the FEC. (Antosh v. FEC, Civil Action No. 86-0179.)