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Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee v. FEC (93-1321)


On November 14, 1994, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ordered the FEC to vacate its dismissal of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's (DSCC's) complaint against the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) with respect to excessive contributions made in the 1992 Georgia U.S. Senate race. The court based this judgment on FEC regulations defining general and runoff elections. 11 CFR 100.2(b) and (d).


A general election was held in Georgia on November 3, 1992, in which none of the candidates for U.S. Senate won a majority. Under Georgia law, when an election for U.S. Senator fails to produce a majority winner, a second election must be held between the top two vote getters. Such an election was held on November 24, 1992.

Under the federal election law, the DSCC and the NRSC were each permitted to spend up to $535,608 on behalf of their party nominee in the 1992 Georgia general election for U.S. Senate. 2 U.S.C. §441a(d). The NRSC had exhausted this spending authority by November 3, while the DSCC had not. Subsequently, the NRSC requested an advisory opinion from the FEC as to whether to classify the November 24 election as a second general election or as a runoff. The NRSC would be legally entitled to a new $535,608 spending authority if the election were deemed a general election, but not if it were deemed a runoff election. Since the Commission split 3-3[1] on how to classify the November 24 election, no advisory opinion was issued. The NRSC then proceeded to spend nearly the full amount permitted for a general election in support of its candidate for the November 24 election. The DSCC, on the other hand, limited its expenditures to the balance which remained from the original §441a(d) allowance.

The DSCC filed a complaint with the FEC on November 19, alleging that the NRSC had violated federal election law by exceeding its §441a(d) spending limit in this race. The Commission split 3-3 on whether or not to initiate an investigation and then dismissed the DSCC's complaint. The DSCC then brought this case before the court.

Court's ruling

Based on its interpretation of FEC regulations, the court concluded that the November 24 election was not a general election. It reasoned that the election could not qualify as a general election because it was not held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November in an even numbered year, nor was it designed to fill a vacancy, thus failing to meet either of the criteria for a general election. 11 CFR 100.2(b).

The court further reasoned that the November 24 election fit the definition of a runoff election because it was held after a general election and it was prescribed by applicable state law as the means for deciding which candidate was the winner. 11 CFR 100.2(d).

The court disagreed with the argument that the November 24 election could be both a general and a runoff election. The court observed that the regulations do not state that a runoff election can also be a general election, whereas, in defining other types of elections, the regulations clearly state where overlap is possible.

The court ordered the FEC to initiate appropriate enforcement proceedings against the NRSC.


[1] Four votes (out of six) are required to adopt advisory opinions and to take action in compliance matters. 11 CFR 112.4(a).

Source:   FEC Record January 1995. Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee v. FEC, No. 93-1321 (HHG) (D.D.C. Nov. 14, 1994).