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Barnstead for Congress Committee v. FEC


On June 5, 1979, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment to the FEC and dismissed a complaint which had been filed by the Barnstead Committee (the Committee) against the FEC, WGBH Educational Foundation (Public Broadcasting TV, Channel 2), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Quaker Oats Corporation. The Committee had filed suit on January 1, 1979, disputing the Commission's dismissal of a complaint which the Committee had filed with the Commission on November 2, 1978. The Committee requested that the court reverse the Commission's determination.


The Committee had alleged in its complaint, and repeated in its suit, that the corporate sponsorship of and payment for production and promotional costs of a televised film about House Speaker Tip O'Neill (Mr. Barnstead's opponent for a House seat) was in violation of 2 U.S.C. §441b. The Committee contended that, since Congressman O'Neill was officially a candidate at the time the film was broadcast, the film was " essence a campaign film, which enhanced the political standing of one candidate over another." Costs incurred in producing and broadcasting the film, therefore, were expenditures in connection with a federal election. The FEC, on the other hand, maintained that the costs incurred by WGBH Educational Foundation, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Quaker Oats Corporation, in sponsoring the film, were exempt communication costs. Under Section 431(f)(4)(A), the Act exempts from the definition of expenditure certain communication costs, which include "any news story, commentary or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee or candidate." In dismissing the suit, the court upheld the Commission's determination that the costs involved in sponsoring the broadcast were, in fact, communication costs and not expenditures under the Act.

Source: FEC RecordJanuary 1980