FEC v. American International Demographic Services
On February 10, 1986, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued an order permanently enjoining American International Demographic Services, Inc. (A.I.D.S.) and its Vice President, Ernest Halter, from using FEC campaign finance information for commercial purposes. The court imposed a $3,500 civil penalty on the defendants for illegal use of the information. (Civil Action No. 85-0437-A.)
The Federal Election Campaign Act states that "...any information copied from reports or statements may not be sold or used by any person for the purpose of soliciting contributions or for commercial purposes, other than using the name and address of any political committee to solicit contributions from such committee." 2 U.S.C. §438(a)(4). While the Commission has allowed FEC information on political committees to be used for contribution solicitations, the agency has forbidden the use of individual contributor information for commercial purposes (e.g., product advertisements) or for solicitations.
The defendants' violation of this provision involved their illegal use of two FEC computer tapes containing individual contributor information that had been disclosed on FEC reports filed by political committees. The tapes had been purchased by Mr. Halter's wife on behalf on the Voter Information Council PAC (VICPAC), a nonconnected political committee she had established in April 1982. (Mrs. Halter claimed she had purchased the tapes to purge outdated information on lists owned by VICPAC and by her.) As part of an agreement A.I.D.S. had entered into with Working Names, Inc., a list management company, Mr. Halter subsequently transferred the two FEC tapes to the company. Working Names used the tapes, along with two other FEC tapes, to create four mailing lists which the company marketed to list brokers and mailers.
The defendants' illegal use of FEC contributor information was discovered by the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) when a direct mail piece was addressed to "Kane Orsell," a fictitious contributor NRCC had listed on a report filed with the FEC. (FEC regulations allow a political committee to "salt" its FEC report with up to ten fictitious names and addresses for purposes of detecting such illegal use of its contributor names. 11 CFR 104.3(e).) The mailing was sent by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which had rented its list of addresses from a broker that Working Names had supplied with lists. (The Council had purchased the list for a one-time use.)
After tracing original ownership of the mailing list back to A.I.D.S., NRCC held a meeting with Mr. Halter in which he agreed, among other things, to take the names of NRCC contributors off the list broker market and to provide NRCC with a list of the direct mail companies that had rented the names. Mr. Halter failed to do any of these things. Consequently, on September 28, 1982, the NRCC filed a complaint against both Mr. Halter and A.I.D.S. with the FEC. After investigating the matter, the FEC found probable cause to believe that the defendants had violated the election law. Subsequently, when defendants failed to enter into a conciliation agreement with the agency, the FEC brought suit against them in the district court.
In its suit, the FEC asked the court to declare that Mr. Halter and A.I.D.S. had violated Section 438(a)(4) by using reports filed with the FEC for commercial purposes. Specifically, the FEC asked the court to find that defendants used FEC information to: a) prepare contributor listings they rented to various organizations through a broker and b) increase the commercial value of contributor listings they already had.
After examining the evidence presented for its consideration at trial, the court found that "the defendants willfully violated the Act by having Working Names manage the [two FEC computer] tapes for the purpose of renting them out to brokers and mailers." Mr. Halter filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit on March 31, 1986.
Appeals court ruling
On February 2, 1987, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed FEC v. Ernest Halter (Appeal No. 86-1560). The court's action responded to Mr. Halter's request for a dismissal of his appeal.