FEC v. Hall-Tyner Election Campaign Committee
On September 22, 1981, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an order in FEC v. Hall-Tyner Election Campaign Committee (the Committee) granting the defendant's motion for summary judgment in the suit (Civil Action No. 78-3508). The Committee was the principal campaign committee for the 1976 Presidential and Vice Presidential nominees of the Communist Party, U.S.A. The district court ruled that the recordkeeping and disclosure requirements of the Act, as applied to the Committee, would abridge First Amendment rights to the Committee's supporters.
The FEC's suit arose from the Committee's failure to disclose on its reports the names and addresses of 424 contributors who had each made contributions of $100 or more. Instead, the Committee listed the contributors as "anonymous" (in violation of 2 U.S.C. §434(b)(2)). Moreover, the Committee's treasurer failed to keep records of contributions exceeding $50 from individuals who had elected to remain anonymous (in violation of 2 U.S.C. §432(c)). After attempting to resolve this matter through informal methods of conciliation, the Commission filed suit with the district court on August 1, 1978.
District court ruling
In ruling that the Committee did not have to comply with the Act's disclosure requirements, the district court noted that the Supreme Court had not created a blanket exemption for minor parties from the Act's disclosure requirements in its Buckley v. Valeo decision. The Supreme Court did conclude, however, that minor parties might not have to comply with the disclosure provisions when they had a chilling effect on contributors' rights of free association. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. at 72-74.
In order to exempt contributors from the disclosure requirements, the Court said that a minor party would have to demonstrate a "reasonable probability" that compelled disclosure of the names of contributors would "subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either Government officials or private parties." Id. at 74. Under these circumstances, disclosure could "...instill sufficient fear in potential supporters of the organization to deter them from engaging in protected associational activity." Id. at 71. On examining the evidence presented by the Committee, the district court found that "the record plainly reflects an extensive history of governmental harassment and public hostility directed at the Party and its members and supporters." The district court concluded that "the substantial infringement of First Amendment rights demonstrated in the record cannot be justified by the governmental interests furthered by applying the FECA disclosure requirements to the defendants." Moreover, the court noted that "the governmental interest served in disclosing the source and amount of contributions is less substantial" in the case of a minor party. The district court cited the Supreme Court's holding in Buckley that "the undue influence of large contributions on officeholders" is reduced in the case of minor parties since their candidates are less likely to win an election. Id. at 70.
Similarly, the district court found that the Act's recordkeeping requirements also infringed on the contributors' free association rights, even though information recorded would not be publicly disclosed. The court cited an ongoing governmental investigation as evidence that records of contributors' names would subject them to undue harassment. The district court cited 12 affidavits submitted by anonymous individuals providing evidence of harassment. The district court found that the main governmental interest served by the recordkeeping requirements (i.e., effective monitoring and enforcement of the contribution limits) did not justify infringement of the contributors' First Amendment rights.
Appeals court ruling
On May 6, 1982, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued an opinion in FEC v. Hall-Tyner Election Campaign Committee (Civil Action No. 81-6229). The appeals court upheld an earlier ruling by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York that the recordkeeping and disclosure requirements of the Act, as applied to the Hall-Tyner Campaign Committee (the Committee), would abridge First Amendment rights of the Committee's supporters.
In affirming the district court's decision, the appeals court found that the Committee had met the standard set forth in Buckley v. Valeo for exempting minor parties from the Act's disclosure requirements; i.e., the Committee had demonstrated a "reasonable probability" that disclosure of the names of its contributors would subject them to governmental or private harassment. Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. at 72-74. Moreover, the appeals court cited the Court's holding in Buckley that the governmental interest served in disclosing the source and amount of contributions (i.e., "the undue influence of large contributions on officeholders") is less substantial in the case of a minor party with little chance of winning an election. Id. at 70. The appeals court concluded, therefore, that the governmental interest served in obtaining information on the Committee's contributors did not justify the chilling effect that disclosure would have on their First Amendment rights of free association.