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Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee v. FEC (84-1393)


On November 1, 1985, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FEC did not abuse its discretion in declining to reconsider a final determination the agency had made with regard to the Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee, Inc.'s (the Committee's) repayment of nonqualified campaign expenses to the U.S. Treasury.[1] CA No. 84-1393 and 84-1499 (The Committee was the publicly funded principal campaign committee for former President Carter's 1980 primary campaign.) The court's ruling sustained decisions made by the FEC on July 12 and September 20, 1984, not to reconsider its final repayment determination with regard to the Committee.


On July 6, 1982, the Committee had filed a petition with the appeals court which sought review of an FEC final determination that the Committee must repay $104,300.78 to the U.S. Treasury, an amount equal to those nonqualified expenses incurred by the Committee during the 1980 primary campaign. (Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee v. FEC, 111 F.2d 279 (D.C. Cir. 1983); see summary at left.) The court dismissed the case on grounds that it had not been filed within the time frame required by the election law. See 26 U.S.C. §9041(a).

On August 7, 1984, the Committee filed a petition, asking the Court to review the decision that the FEC made on its own initiative not to reopen its final repayment determination for the Committee in light of recent decisions made by the court in two other suits concerning repayments. (In Kennedy for President Committee v. FEC and Reagan for President Committee v. FEC, the court had held that the FEC had exceeded its authority under 26 U.S.C. §9038(b)(2) when it required repayment of the entire amount of nonqualifying payments, rather than the portion attributable to the matching payment account.) The Committee also asked the FEC to reconsider its decision (taken in July 1984) not to reopen the Carter/Mondale repayment determinations. The Commission had decided to reconsider only the repayments by the Kennedy and Reagan committees, which had been required by the court. The Commission had taken this position " 'in the interest of finality in the administrative process, now and in the future.'" The Committee claimed that the FEC's decision disregarded the principle of equal treatment for all candidates, which the Committee alleged the agency had established in reconsidering a final repayment determination made with regard to John Anderson's publicly funded campaign. On September 20, 1984, the FEC once again declined to reconsider the Committee's final repayment determination. On October 2, 1984, the Committee filed a second petition with the appeals court. On October 15, 1984, the court consolidated this case with the Committee's August 1984 case.

Appeals court's ruling

The court rejected the Committee's claim that the FEC's July determination was unlawful because it contradicted a precedent established by the agency's reconsideration of the Anderson Campaign's repayment requirements: "Far from establishing any general or even selective practice of reopening final determinations, the record before us [of the FEC's reconsideration of the Anderson determination] displays only an isolated situation in which the facts distinguishable from those in the case at hand tugged the Commission away from application of the finality principle."

Nor did the court find merit in the Committee's assertion that the FEC had treated the Committee unfairly. "No favoritism can be attributed to the FEC when it carries out the letter of a court's order" to reconsider repayments by the Kennedy and Reagan committees. Moreover, the Committee's tardiness in seeking court review of its own repayment determination contradicts "'Congress' strong interest in resolving federal matching fund audits expeditiously.' 111 F.2d at 289 and n.19."

Finally, the court rejected the Committee's argument that the FEC had failed to give reasons for refusing to reopen its repayment determination. "[A]bsence of an express statement does not render its action unlawful where reasons for that action may be gleaned from its [the FEC's] staff's reports."


[1] The public funding statutes require Presidential candidates to repay the U.S. Treasury for nonqualified campaign expenses. 26 U.S.C. §§9007(b)(4) and 9038(b)(2).

Source:   FEC RecordDecember 1985. Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee, Inc. v. FEC, 775 F.2d 1182 (D.C. Cir. 1985).