Committee for a Unified Independent Party, Inc. v. FEC
On May 8, 2000, the Committee for a Unified Independent Party and other plaintiffs (collectively the Committee) asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to find that the FEC's debate regulations are not authorized by the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and violate the First and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution.
The regulations in question, 11 CFR 110.13 and 114.4(f), permit nonprofit corporations to stage candidate debates and to accept donations from corporations and labor unions to defray the costs of those debates. This exemption from the general prohibition against corporate and union contributions and expenditures is based on a statutory provision that permits "nonpartisan activity (by corporations or unions) designed to encourage individuals to vote or to register to vote." 2 U.S.C. §431(9)(B)(ii).
The Committee argued that debates are not "nonpartisan activity designed to encourage individuals to vote or to register to vote" and are therefore not authorized by the Act. Further, even if debates were considered exempt nonpartisan activity, the FEC's regulations unlawfully expand the statutory exemption to permit debates that are neither nonpartisan nor designed to encourage voting. Rather, the debate regulations permit corporations and unions to make prohibited contributions to influence federal elections.
The Committee further contended that the debate regulations "tilt the electoral playing field so as to put minor parties . . . and persons and organizations seeking to promote a democratic multiparty electoral process, at a competitive disadvantage" in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
On October 10, 2001, the court granted the Commission's motion to dismiss this case, finding that the Committee lacked standing to challenge the Commission's debate regulations. In order to have standing to bring a case in federal court, the plaintiffs must satisfy a three-part test. The plaintiffs must:
- Allege personal injury;
- Show that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct; and
- Show that the injury is likely to be redressed by the relief that the plaintiffs request.
In this case, the court found that the plaintiffs that were political parties lacked standing because they either were not injured as a result of the regulations or could not trace their injury directly to the regulations. Likewise, the CUIP, an organization interested in sponsoring multilateral debates, could not show an injury that was traceable to the debate regulations. The court also found that the plaintiffs who were individual voters, minor party supporters or former candidates lacked standing to challenge the regulations. Having found that Plaintiffs lacked standing, the court ordered the case closed without considering the merits of Plaintiffs' claims.