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Common Cause and Democracy 21 v. FEC


On November 21, 2001, Common Cause and Democracy 21 (the plaintiffs), both nonprofit public interest organizations, asked the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to find that the Commission acted contrary to law when it dismissed the plaintiffs' administrative complaint, filed April 4, 2000. The administrative complaint alleged that, during the 2000 election, joint fundraising efforts by authorized Senate campaign committees and national and state party committees resulted in violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act). On September 25, 2001, the Commission dismissed the administrative complaint.


Under Commission regulations, political committees, such as authorized candidate committees and party committees, may engage in joint fundraising efforts and may form a committee to act as a joint fundraising representative. 11 CFR 102.17(a). If any participant in the joint fundraiser can lawfully accept nonfederal funds (soft money), then the joint fundraising representative can accept nonfederal funds. 11 CFR 102.17(c)(3) and 2 U.S.C. §§441a, b, c, e, f and g. However, only federal funds-contributions that comply with the Act's limits and prohibitions-may be used to influence a federal election. Party committees may make coordinated expenditures on behalf of their federal candidates, so long as only federal funds are used and the expenditures do not exceed the coordinated party expenditure limits. 2 U.S.C. §441a(d).

Administrative complaint. In their April 2000 administrative complaint, the plaintiffs alleged that during the 2000 federal elections a number of campaign committees and party committees were using nonfederal funds raised through joint fundraising activities to make expenditures that violated the Act. The plaintiffs alleged that during the 2000 New York Senatorial race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), the New York State Democratic Committee (NYSDC) and Senator Hillary Clinton's campaign committee (Clinton Committee) created a joint fundraising representative that raised funds for the committees. The plaintiffs claimed that the DSCC and the NYSDC used joint fundraising funds, including nonfederal funds, to purchase television advertisements that were intended to promote Senator Clinton's election and that may have constituted coordinated party expenditures because they appeared to have been coordinated with the Clinton committee. According to the complaint, donors who gave money to the joint fundraising representative understood that their donations would be used to support Senator Clinton's campaign. The plaintiffs asserted that the DSCC transferred funds that under the Act could not be allocated to the Clinton Committee to the NYSDC, which then purchased the ads. Thus, the administrative complaint alleged that the committees violated the Act's contribution limits and its prohibitions on corporate and labor union contributions. 2 U.S.C. §§441a and 441b.

Court complaint

In their November 2001 court complaint, the plaintiffs repeated the above allegations concerning the 2000 New York Senate race. The court complaint further alleged that these expenditures, when aggregated with the parties' other expenditures, exceeded the Act's coordinated party expenditure limits and were not properly reported to the Commission.

As a result, the complaint alleged, the Clinton Committee, the DSCC and the NYSDC violated the Act by:

  • Accepting contributions in excess of the individual contribution limits and in violation of the prohibitions on contributions from corporations and labor organizations (2 U.S.C. §§441a and 441b(a));
  • Accepting or expending funds in excess of the coordinated party expenditure limits (2 U.S.C. §§441a(d) and 441a(f)); and
  • Failing to report contributions and expenditures used to influence a federal election (2 U.S.C. §434(b)).

Additionally, the complaint alleged that the DSCC exceeded the Act's limit on national committee contributions to Senate candidates and that the DSCC and the NYSDC exceeded limits on political committee contributions to candidates and their authorized committees. 2 U.S.C. §§441a(h) and 441a(a).

In their complaint, the plaintiffs also asserted that other committees involved in joint fundraising for the 2000 elections had committed similar violations, including Democratic committees in Michigan supporting Senator Stabenow and Republican committees in Missouri supporting then-Senator Aschcroft.


The plaintiffs claim that the Commission failed to provide a reasoned basis for its decision to dismiss their administrative complaint and that the dismissal was erroneous. The plaintiffs ask the court to declare that the Commission's dismissal of the administrative complaint was arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law under the Act.

Source:   FEC Record— February 2002.