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Dolbeare v. FEC


On March 11, 1982, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued a ruling granting a preliminary injunction to the plaintiffs in Dolbeare v. FEC (No. 81 Civ. 4468-CLB).

Plaintiffs' suit challenged pending FEC investigations of various activities with respect to the Citizens for LaRouche Committee (the LaRouche campaign), Lyndon H. LaRouche's principal campaign committee for the 1980 Presidential primaries. The LaRouche campaign claimed that the statutory provision authorizing the investigations (2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(2)) was unconstitutional as applied to the LaRouche campaign because it placed no limits on the time for completing the investigations. Moreover, the LaRouche campaign alleged that the FEC had undertaken the investigations to harass the campaign. Furthermore, the investigations had a chilling effect on the free association rights of the campaign's contributors. The LaRouche campaign also claimed that, in conducting its investigations, the FEC had gone beyond the prescribed scope for FEC investigations.

The FEC sought dismissal of the suit on jurisdictional grounds. Primarily, the FEC claimed that the suit was not justiciable because, under 2 U.S.C. §437g(a), an agency has the discretion to decide whether there is "reason to believe" the Act has been violated and whether an alleged violation should be investigated. The FEC also argued that, pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in Federal Trade Commission v. Standard Oil of California, such initial agency determinations are not final and thus not ripe for judicial review in a federal court. Moreover, the FEC said that §437h provides jurisdiction only for claims of statutory unconstitutionality, not for claims that a statute is unconstitutional as applied. Furthermore, the FEC argued that the LaRouche campaign's claim that the FEC's investigations would have a long-term chilling effect on their political activities did not meet the test for immediate injunctive relief-evidence of "specific present objective harm or a threat of specific future harm..." (Laird v. Tatum, 408 U.S. 1, 13-14 (1971)). The FEC further argued that the LaRouche campaign had failed to present sufficient evidence to demonstrate a likelihood of succeeding with its case on the merits.

In granting a preliminary injunction, the court found that it did have jurisdiction over the claims raised in the suit and that §437h could be used to challenge the constitutionality of the Act, as applied. The court also held that it did not have to certify the campaign's constitutional questions to the appeals court, pursuant to §437h, but could itself take primary jurisdiction over them. The court reasoned that the campaign would be caused "irreparable harm" as a result of substantial legal fees and the depletion of volunteer staff resources required to defend the campaign against the FEC's ongoing investigations. The court therefore barred the FEC from:

  • Initiating any more investigations into the LaRouche campaign's 1980 Presidential primary activities until the pending enforcement actions were concluded; and
  • Auditing, or issuing depositions to, LaRouche campaign contributors unless the FEC simultaneously notified the LaRouche campaign of such actions.

Moreover, the court ordered the FEC to complete its enforcement actions promptly and to treat the LaRouche campaign as a respondent to all pending investigations involving the campaign's 1980 Presidential primary activities. The court also ordered the FEC to furnish copies of depositions taken with regard to any of the pending investigations, if requested by the LaRouche campaign. The court, however, conditioned its enforcement of the injunction on:

  • Plaintiffs' agreement to waive certain legal claims with respect to time limits for the FEC enforcement actions; and
  • Plaintiffs' full cooperation with the FEC in completing the pending enforcement matters.

Source:   FEC RecordMay 1982. Dolbeare v. FEC, No. 81 Civ. 4468-CLB (S.D. N.Y. March 9, 1982) (unpublished opinion).