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Democratic National Committee v. FEC (08-0639)


On April 14, 2008, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the DNC Services Corporation filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that, since the Commission does not have the four commissioners needed to take certain actions on an administrative complaint filed by the DNC, the court should authorize the plaintiffs to act in the place of the Commission to pursue resolution of the complaint in court.

The court dismissed the complaint on May 14, finding that, under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act), a party may only file such a complaint after the expiration of the statutorily mandated 120-day period. See 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A).


According to the court complaint, the DNC filed an administrative complaint with the Commission on February 25, 2008, alleging that Senator John mcCain and his Presidential campaign violated the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account Act (the Matching Payment Act). The DNC alleged that Senator McCain’s campaign entered into a binding agreement with the Commission for the receipt of primary matching funds. Senator McCain subsequently informed the Commission that he was withdrawing from the Matching Payment Act Program, but the DNC alleged that his purported withdrawal violated the Matching Payment Act. The DNC alleged that Senator McCain had pledged the matching funds as collateral for a bank loan and thus may not withdraw from the program.

The Act provides that the Commission has 120 days from receipt of an administrative complaint before a complainant can file suit against the Commission alleging a failure to act, and 30 days to comply with any subsequent court declaration that the Commission has unlawfully failed to act. However, because the Commission has only two members at this time and four affirmative votes are required to take certain actions in handling an administrative complaint, the DNC’s lawsuit claimed that the Commission will not be able to act on its complaint in a timely manner, and thus the court should grant the DNC the right to pursue enforcement of the Act in court against Senator McCain and his committee.


The DNC asked the court to:

  • Declare that the Commission’s alleged failure to act on the DNC’s administrative complaint is contrary to law; and
  • Enter an order finding that it would be futile to direct the Commission to comply with the law within 30 days and authorizing the plaintiffs to bring a civil action against the McCain campaign to remedy the Alleged violations.

Order to show cause

The Commission filed a statement with the court suggesting that the court had an independent obligation to determine whether the court had jurisdiction over the case.

On May 2, 2008, the District Court issued an Order to Show Cause, directing the DNC to explain why the court should not dismiss the DNC’s complaint for being filed before the 120-day period had expired. In response, the DNC argued that the 120-day rule does not prohibit the filing of a court complaint, but only prohibits the court from acting on a complaint within the first 120 days after an administrative complaint is filed. Additionally, the DNC argued that the 120-day jurisdictional limit should not apply because the Commission lacks a quorum to initiate an investigation.

Court decision

On May 14, 2008, the District Court dismissed the DNC’s complaint without prejudice. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the case because the plain text of the Act allows a party to file a petition with a court only after the expiration of the 120-day period. See 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(a)(8)(A). The court also observed that the Commission could reach a quorum within the 120-day period.

Source: FEC Record June 2008