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Becker v. FEC; Nader v. FEC



Independent voter Heidi Becker, candidate Ralph Nader, the Green Party and others (Becker) asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts to find that the Commission's regulations concerning debates, at 11 CFR 110.13 and 114.4(f), were unlawful.

The Commission's regulations allow a nonprofit corporation to stage a debate among federal candidates and to "use its own funds" and "accept funds donated by corporations or labor organizations" as long as certain guidelines are followed. 11 CFR 110.13 and 114.4(f).

Becker argued that these regulations exceed the Commission's statutory authority because the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) prohibits corporations from making contributions or expenditures "in connection with" a federal election, and the statute does not make an exception for corporate activity that helps stage federal candidate debates. 2 U.S.C. §441b(a). Becker further argued that Commission regulations allow corporations to fund debates between the major party candidates that exclude independent and ballot-qualified third party candidates. Becker alleged that the Commission's regulations deprived the plaintiffs of their right to participate in presidential elections that are free of the corrupting influence of illegal corporate contributions.

Becker asked the court to:

  • Enter a declaratory judgment that 11 CFR 110.13 and 114.4(f) exceed the Commission's statutory authority;
  • Enter a declaratory judgment that the Act does not permit a debate staging organization to use its own corporate funds or accept funds donated by corporations or labor organizations; and
  • Preliminarily and permanently enjoin the Commission from relying on 11 CFR 110.13 and 114.4(f) and require it to enforce the Act's prohibition against the use of corporate funds in the staging of federal candidate debates.

District court decision

On September 1, 2000, the court denied Becker's motion for a preliminary injunction. The court found that these regulations are not in excess of the FEC's statutory authority under the Act. The court also dismissed the complaint for lack of standing with regard to the individual-voter plaintiffs.

By consent of the parties, the district court entered a final judgment in favor of the FEC on September 14, 2000. The plaintiffs filed an appeal of this decision on September 15, 2000, and asked for an expedited review. The appeal was argued as Nader v. FEC.

Nader v. FEC

On November 1, 2000, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld the district court's denial of relief. On January 31, 2000, Mr. Nader and the other petitioners filed a writ of certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court denied the plaintiff's petition on April 30, 2001.

Source:   FEC RecordJune 2001; April 2001; November 2000; August 2000. Nader v. FEC, 230 F.3d 381.