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Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee v. FEC (95-0349)


On April 17, 1996, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the FEC acted contrary to law when it allowed nearly 600 days to pass without taking any meaningful action on an administrative complaint filed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). Under 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A), anyone who files a complaint with the FEC may seek court intervention if the FEC fails to complete action on the complaint within 120 days.

The DSCC filed the complaint on May 14, 1993. In the complaint, the DSCC alleged, among other things, that the National Republican Senatorial Committee had violated the law by making illegal "soft money" contributions to influence the 1992 Senate elections-particularly the runoff in Georgia.

On February 22, 1995, the DSCC filed this suit claiming that the FEC's failure to complete action was arbitrary and capricious.

The court reasoned that while FEC decisions concerning whether to conduct an investigation were entitled to judicial deference, the agency's failure to consider a complaint for nearly 600 days was subject to judicial review. The court examined whether the FEC had acted reasonably in allowing nearly 600 days to pass before taking action on the DSCC's complaint.

The criteria the court used to review the FEC's inaction are outlined in Rose v. FEC (1984) and Telecommunications Research & Action Center v. FCC (1984); they are:

  • The credibility of the allegation;
  • The nature of the threat posed;
  • The resources and information available to the agency;
  • The novelty of the issues involved;
  • The time it takes for the agency to make decisions;
  • Whether Congress mandated a timetable for the agency to take action on such matters as the one at hand;
  • The nature of the matter (for instance, delayed agency action on matters affecting human health and welfare are less tolerable than those in the sphere of economic regulation);
  • The effect that court-ordered expedited action on the matter would have on agency activities of a higher or competing priority;
  • The nature and extent of the interest prejudiced by the agency's delay in acting on the matter; and
  • The fact that the court need not "find any impropriety lurking behind agency lassitude in order to hold that agency action is 'unreasonably delayed.'"

Based on its analysis of the factors listed above, the court ruled that the FEC's failure to consider the DSCC's complaint for nearly 600 days was contrary to law. The court noted, however, that while this litigation was pending, the FEC had moved forward with respect to the DSCC's complaint. The court warned that should the FEC stall on this matter again, "the need for additional judicial intervention may well be compelling."

Source:   FEC Record — July 1996


District Court (DC)

Court decisions:

Related documents: