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Epstein v. FEC


On September 23, 1981, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order in Jon Epstein v. FEC (Civil Action No. 81-0336) upholding the Commission's determination in an administrative complaint that plaintiff had brought against the Reader's Digest Assoc., Inc. in March 1981. Plaintiff's suit sought review of the FEC's dismissal of his complaint (Matter Under Review [MUR] 1283), pursuant to 2 U.S.C. §437g. In the complaint, he alleged that an ad Reader's Digest had placed in the August 27, 1980, edition of the Washington Post constituted illegal corporate contributions to the campaigns of the Democratic and Republican Congressmen whose excerpted articles had appeared in the ad (in violation of 2 U.S.C. §441b). Introductory and concluding copy in the ad had also promoted Reader's Digest as a "forum for ideas." Plaintiff claimed the FEC's dismissal of his complaint was contrary to law.

The court found that the standard used by the FEC in dismissing the complaint was not arbitrary or otherwise contrary to law. The court held that the "...Commission may reasonably determine that expenditures on publicity that have a purpose other than assistance of political candidates...were not intended by Congress to be" regulated by the Act. This is particularly true, the court said, when the "major purpose" of the publicity is "not to advocate the election of candidates, but to promote the organization paying for the publicity." The court further noted that, in making this determination, the FEC had "relied upon a growing body of decisions...that remove advertisements and other forms of publicity from the Act's prohibition" on corporate expenditures, even though the advertisements" may have political aspects."

Moreover, the court found no merit in plaintiff's argument that the General Counsel's Report did not explain the Commission's decision to dismiss the complaint. "The General Counsel's Memorandum alone, if it is complete enough to have provided a basis for the Commission decision to accept the General Counsel's recommendation, will be adequate for judicial review under section 437g(a)(8)." Nor did the court find merit in plaintiff's contention that the ad was partisan because it offered commentary only by representatives of the two major parties. The court held that the issue was not "the narrowness, or diversity, of the political views" represented in the ad but rather whether the ad served a "partisan purpose."

Source:   FEC Record—November 1981. Epstein v. FEC, 2 Fed. Elec. Camp. Fin. Guide (CCH) 9161 (D.D.C. 1981), aff'd mem., 684 F.2d 1032 (D.C. Cir. 1982).