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Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee v. National Republican Senatorial Committee


On August 15, 1997, in response to a court order, the FEC filed an amicus brief about the confidentiality of its documents in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) suit against the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).

The DSCC's suit was the first contested case in which a private party has sued another private party for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act), pursuant to 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(C). That section of the Act states that if the FEC fails to take action on a complaint within 30 days after it has been ordered to do so by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, then the complainant may file suit in his or her own name against the alleged offender of the Act.

The DSCC had filed two previous lawsuits-in April and November 1996-against the FEC charging that it had failed to take action within 120 days on an administrative complaint filed by the DSCC, alleging that the NRSC had made illegal "soft money" expenditures to influence a Senate election in Georgia. 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A). In the resolution of the second delay suit, which occurred on May 30, 1997, the court ordered the FEC to take action on the administrative complaint within 30 days. When that did not happen, the DSCC filed suit on its own against the NRSC.

The Commission's brief was in response to an order from the court seeking the FEC's views on keeping under seal certain documents it filed during proceedings in the two DSCC delay cases and to which the NRSC has requested access. The Commission argued that providing such information to the NRSC would compromise its investigation into the DSCC's original administrative complaint, which continues despite the DSCC's most recent lawsuit against the NRSC. The documents being sought by the NRSC included information about potential witnesses and FEC actions and procedures in the investigation. The FEC contended that the information in the sealed files contained no evidence about the NRSC's alleged violations, and thus would be of little relevance to the NRSC's court battle with the DSCC. And, although the DSCC had seen some of the information under seal, it was barred by the court's protective order from using that information in its own lawsuit against the NRSC.

The Commission also noted the precedent the court would set if it were to allow the NRSC to view the confidential information covered by the protective order, stating that the Commission would have to take such actions into consideration in deciding what information to provide the court in future delay cases.

On August 27, 1997, the court granted a stay requested by the NRSC without deciding whether to maintain the confidentiality of the documents.

Source:   FEC Record October 1997