FEC v. Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980; FEC v. Florida for Kennedy; FEC v. Machinists Non-Partisan Political League; FEC v. Wisconsin Democrats for Change in 1980
Between December 1980 and January 1981, the FEC filed four separate suits in U.S. district courts seeking enforcement of subpoenas it had issued to three "draft Kennedy" political committees registered with the Commission, which had been engaged in promoting the Presidential candidacy of Senator Edward Kennedy during 1979, and to the Machinist Non-Partisan Political League (MNPL), the separate segregated fund of the International Association of Machinists, which had supported the formation of "draft Kennedy" groups in several states during 1979. The Commission filed suit against MNPL and Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (FEC v. Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980, Civil Action No. 800-0009 and FEC v. Machinists Non-Partisan Political League, Civil Action No. 79-0291), against Wisconsin Democrats for Change in 1980 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District in Wisconsin (FEC v. Wisconsin Democrats for Change in 1980, Civil Action No. 80-C-124) and against the Florida for Kennedy Committee in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (FEC v. Florida for Kennedy Committee, Civil Action No. 79-5964-CIV-JLK).
The suits resulted from defendants' failure to comply with subpoenas to produce information, which the FEC had issued as part of an investigation of alleged violations of the election law. 2 U.S.C. §437d. The FEC had received a complaint from the Carter/Mondale Presidential Committee, Inc. on October 4, 1979, alleging that nine named political committees were affiliated within the meaning of 2 U.S.C. §433, 441a(a)(5) and 11 CFR 110.3(a)(1)(ii)(D). The complaint claimed that, as affiliated political committees, the nine committees were subject to a single $5,000 limit on contributions they accepted from a multicandidate committee. 2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(1)(C)(2)(C). The complaint further alleged that the draft committees had received, and MNPL had given to them, contributions in excess of the $5,000 limit. 2 U.S.C. §441a(a).
After finding reason to believe that the draft committees and MNPL had violated the Act, the Commission issued 13 subpoenas to various draft committees and to MNPL in an effort to investigate the draft committees' alleged affiliation.
Continued refusal by the four defendants to comply with their subpoenas prompted the FEC to seek enforcement of the subpoenas in the U.S. district courts. The FEC argued that the subpoenas clearly conformed to the guidelines for the enforcement of an administrative agency's subpoenas established by the Supreme Court in United States v. Morton Salt Co. Specifically, the FEC's inquiries were authorized by 2 U.S.C. §437d(a)(1), they were not too indefinite and the information they sought was reasonably relevant to the FEC's investigation. Further, in seeking court-mandated enforcement of the subpoenas, the Commission had followed the procedures prescribed by 2 U.S.C. §437d(b).
Defendant committees raised collateral issues that challenged the Commission's jurisdiction over political committees organized to draft candidates for federal office and that raised First Amendment questions. Defendants argued that, for purposes of the Act, the Supreme Court had restricted the definition of a "political committee" in Buckley v. Valeo to a group whose major purpose is to influence the nomination or election of a candidate. (Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. at 79.)
District court decision
The district courts ordered enforcement of the Commission's subpoenas. The courts maintained that the subpoenas met the guidelines for enforceability and were within the authority of the agency.
The Wisconsin Democrats for Change in 1980 complied with the Wisconsin district court's subpoena enforcement order. However, Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980 and MNPL filed notices appealing the D.C. district court's decisions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and the Florida for Kennedy Committee filed a notice appealing the Florida district court's decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The Florida for Kennedy Committee was granted its application for a stay of the district court's order pending its appeal. The D.C. district and appeals courts denied the stay applications requested by Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980 and MNPL; the Supreme Court also denied a further application made by MNPL. The appellants then produced all documents requested by the Commission.
Appeals court decision: MNPL and Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980
On May 19, 1981, the appeals court for the D.C. circuit issued its opinions in FEC v. MNPL and FEC v. Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980. The appeals court found that the Commission "lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the draft activities it sought to investigate." (FEC v. MNPL, slip op. at 7; FEC v. Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980, slip op. at 2). The appeals court vacated the D.C. district court's orders enforcing the subpoenas and remanded the cases to the district court for further proceedings consistent with its ruling. The appeals court limited its decision to the provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act prior to the 1979 Amendments: "Whatever the post-1979 situation, it is clear to us that in this case the contribution limitations did not apply to the nine groups whose activities did not support an existing 'candidate.'" (FEC v. MNPL, slip op. at 31.) The court did note that the 1979 Amendments to the Act appeared to require that "draft" committees comply only with the Act's reporting requirements.
The appeals court departed from the standard for judicial review of agency subpoenas and established a new "extra careful scrutiny" standard for judicial enforcement of FEC subpoenas. The appeals court reasoned that such a standard was warranted since "the activities which the FEC normally investigates differ in terms of their constitutional significance" from those of concern to other federal agencies. On June 9, 1981, the Commission decided to seek review of the D.C. appeals court's decisions by petitioning the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. On October 13, 1981, the Supreme Court denied the petition.
Appeals court decision: Florida for Kennedy Committee
On August 2, 1982, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion overturning a ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida in FEC v. Florida for Kennedy Committee (FKC) (Civil Action No. 80-6013). 681 F.2d 1281 (11th Cir. 1982). The appeals court, with Judge Clark dissenting, found that the Commission lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the FKC's activities. The appeals court therefore reversed the district court's order enforcing subpoenas that the Commission had issued to FKC.
Relying on the Supreme Court's decision in NAACP v. Alabama (357 U.S. 499 ), the appeals court maintained that the usual standard for judicial review of agency subpoenas did not apply in the FEC's case. The appeals court reasoned that "the FEC [must] prove to the satisfaction of the courts that it has statutory investigative authority" before the courts may order enforcement of FEC subpoenas. The appeals court then found that "committees organized to 'draft' a person for federal office" are not "political committees" within the purview of the Act and are not, therefore, subject to the Commission's investigative authority.
Judge Clark, in his dissent to the majority opinion, concluded that the statutory language and legislative history both demonstrated that "draft" committees fall within the jurisdiction of the Act. Judge Clark argued that to exempt draft committees from the Act "would leave a significant portion of political activity outside the coverage of the Act, a construction rejected by the Supreme Court." Judge Clark also found the court's reliance on NAACP v. Alabama to be inappropriate.
On September 22, 1982, the Commission filed a petition with the appeals court for a rehearing of the suit and a suggestion for a rehearing en banc, which was denied October 8, 1982.
Source: FEC Record — November 1982; December 1981; July 1981. FEC v. Citizens for Democratic Alternatives in 1980, 655 F.2d 397 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 897 (1981). FEC v. Florida for Kennedy Committee, 492 F. Supp. 587 (S.D. Fl. 1979), rev'd, 681 F.2d 1281 (11th Cir. 1982). FEC v. Machinists Non-Partisan Political Action Committee, 655 F.2d 380 (D.C. Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 897 (1981).