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Committee for Jimmy Carter v. FEC


On March 2, 1981, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed Committee for Jimmy Carter v. FEC (Civil Action No. 79-2425). The court's action came in response to an agreement for dismissal of the appeal, filed by the parties on February 20, 1981. This agreement resulted from the Commission's acceptance of the plaintiff's offer to settle the suit.


Petitioners had originally filed the suit on December 3, 1979, challenging an FEC decision to deny matching funds to the Committee for Jimmy Carter (the Committee), the principal campaign committee of former President Carter's 1976 primary campaign. In its suit, the Committee asserted that the Commission had acted arbitrarily, capriciously and contrary to law in certifying only $88,293.92 of the $185,749 in matching funds requested by the Committee in July 1979. The Commission argued that it was bound by its regulations (11 CFR 133.3 (d) and (e))[1] to certify only those funds the Committee needed to retire the legitimate debts of Mr. Carter's primary campaign. The Commission therefore asserted that, if it had granted the Committee's entire request, it would have acted contrary to law by sanctioning an improper use of primary matching funds. Specifically, the Committee had stated in its request for primary matching funds that it planned to use the amount withheld by the Commission ($97,456.08) for the following expenditures. In the Commission's view, none of these constituted qualified campaign expenses.

  • Approximately $78,000 would be transferred to former President Carter's 1976 general election committee (the 1976 Democratic Presidential Campaign Committee). The general election committee would, in turn, use the funds to defray legal and compliance costs of the general election campaign, including nearly $50,000 in repayments of public funds that Mr. Carter had accepted for the campaign.[2] (The repayment represented approximately $22,000 the Committee had spent on nonqualified campaign expenses and approximately $27,000 in interest income it had earned on invested public funds.)
  • $19,500 would be used to replace funds that the Committee had previously transferred to Mr. Carter's 1976 general election committee in 1978 and 1979, despite the fact that the Committee itself had continued to incur debts during this period.

The Committee argued that the transfers to the 1976 general election committee were part of an ongoing transfer authorization granted by the Commission in February 1977. This authorization had allowed the Committee to transfer $500,000 in private contributions to the compliance fund of the general election committee. These contributions were received after Mr. Carter's nomination to the Presidency in July 1976. Moreover, the Committee argued that the Commission's partial denial of the certification violated Section 134.3(c)(2) of FEC regulations, the provision in effect during the 1976 elections. The Committee claimed that this provision entitled it to receive matching funds up to the full amount of its outstanding debts on the date Mr. Carter was nominated for the Presidency, regardless of whether it received any private contributions after that date.[3]

The Commission maintained, however, that the transfer authorization had terminated in August 1977 when the Committee repaid $126,515 in matching funds to the U.S. Treasury. The Commission noted that it had requested the repayment because it had certified the funds on the understanding that the Committee planned to transfer $500,000 in private contributions to the compliance fund for the general election committee. The Committee had, however, transferred only $300,000.

In the agreement settling the Committee's claim for matching funds, the Commission agreed to certify $65,650.01 to the Committee, an amount equivalent to qualified legal expenses the Committee had incurred through February 1981. The Commission expressly conditioned this certification on the Committee's consent to:

  • Use the funds solely to pay its own outstanding campaign debts;
  • Request no further matching funds and terminate; and
  • Execute and file the agreement for dismissal of the suit with the court of appeals.


[1] The FEC prescribed revised regulations in May 1979. Section 133.3(d) is now 9034.1(a) and Section 133.3(e) is now 9034.1(b).

[2] Under the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act, major party nominees are eligible for public grants of $20 million (plus a cost-of-living adjustment) to finance their general election campaigns.

[3] Under the revised regulation (11 CFR 9034) prescribed in May 1979, Presidential primary candidates are entitled to continue receiving matching funds after their date of ineligibility only if the combined total of their matching funds and private contributions does not cover outstanding debts.

Source: FEC RecordMay 1981