FEC v. Citizens for the Republic
On March 1, 1979, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment to Citizens for the Republic (CFR), defendants in a suit filed by the FEC. In granting judgment to the defendant, the court found that there was no genuine issue as to any material fact.
On August 11, 1977, the Commission found reasonable cause to believe that Citizens for the Republic (formerly Citizens for Reagan, principal campaign committee for former Presidential candidate Ronald Reagan) had violated the Act by failing to report or make best efforts to report the occupations and principal places of business of 35% of those persons who had contributed an aggregate of $100 or more to the candidate, as required by 2 U.S.C. §434(b)(2). On June 23, 1978, the Commission filed suit after unsuccessfully trying, for almost a year, to resolve the matter through conciliation, as required by 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(5)(A).
The defendant maintained that:
- Section 434(b) does not impose an affirmative duty on the candidate to obtain information which may not exist. Rather, the burden of proof is on the Commission, which must identify persons who contributed more than $100 and establish that, at the time of the contribution, they had an occupation and a principal place of business which they were required to report.
- One cannot be in violation of the law for failure to make best efforts; one can only be in violation for failure to report the required information. In the event that the required information does exist and is not reported, the defendant may be relieved of guilt if he is able to demonstrate that he attempted to obtain the required information and was unable to do so.
- The Commission gave insufficient guidance as to how the Committee might obtain the required information. In the absence of any regulation or guidelines, the Committee efforts were best efforts.
The Commission argued that:
- The Act clearly imposes the burden of obtaining the required information on the candidate.
- If the CFR had been able to demonstrate that they had made an attempt to obtain the required information and had not been successful, their effort would have been sufficient. The Committee's initial mailing to potential contributors did not request the required information, or state that the contributor was required to provide it. The only Committee mailing which pointedly requested the missing information was sent in December 1977 (the relevant reporting period was 1975-76), after the Committee had received 14 requests for additional information from the Commission and after the Committee was aware that the Commission had found reasonable cause to believe it was in violation of the Act.
- Lack of guidance did not hinder other Presidential committees from making satisfactory efforts to obtain the required information. Furthermore, the Commission did provide guidance to the Committee, pointing out its reporting deficiencies, suggesting ways those deficiencies might be corrected, and discussing how other Presidential committees were gathering the required information.
In finding for the defendant, the court concluded that the Commission "had a duty to give more...detailed guidance by regulation." In the absence of such guidance, the efforts made by the Reagan Committee were best efforts.
Source: FEC Record — May 1979