FEC v. National Right to Work Committee (90-0571)
On February 15, 1996, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the FEC was barred from suing for a civil penalty in this case because the 5-year statute of limitations had expired. 28 U.S.C. §2462. Additionally, the court ruled that injunctive relief was not warranted because the defendant had not violated the law again for more than 10 years.
The National Right to Work Committee (NRWC) is a nonprofit corporation that defends workers' rights to refuse to join or support a labor union. In 1984, the NRWC spent $100,000 to hire private detectives to infiltrate the AFL-CIO, the National Education Association (NEA) and the Mondale for President Committee for the purpose of gathering evidence that the unions were using their general treasury monies to provide support to Walter Mondale's Presidential effort. (The use of labor union money in connection with a federal election is prohibited by 2 U.S.C. §441b.) The NRWC used the information gathered by its hired detectives to file administrative complaints with the FEC.
In October 1984, the NEA filed an administrative complaint with the FEC that accused the NRWC of violating the same federal election laws that the NRWC had accused the NEA of violating. The NEA complaint contended that the NRWC's payment of $100,000 represented illegal contributions and expenditures because the payments funded the services of detectives who, in the course of conducting their clandestine information gathering, rendered services to the Mondale campaign.
On May 23, 1989, the Commission found probable cause that the NRWC had violated §441b. On March 13, 1990, the FEC filed this lawsuit.
Statute of limitations
In general, federal government agencies must initiate proceedings to assess civil penalties, fines and forfeitures within 5 years from the date when the claim first accrued. 28 U.S.C. §2462. In FEC v. National Republican Senate Committee, the court ruled that this statute of limitations applied to the FEC and that the statute of limitations began to run when the alleged offense was committed. The FEC conceded that the NRWC's hired detectives ceased their undercover operations by September 1984. The court noted that the Commission did not file this lawsuit until March of 1990. The court concluded that the 5-year statute of limitations ran out on this case and the FEC was therefore barred from pursuing a civil penalty in this matter.
Furthermore, the court ruled that because the FEC failed to put forth any compelling evidence that the NRWC had violated the law since 1984, it was both unnecessary and unwarranted to issue injunctive relief.
Source: FEC Record — April 1996. FEC v. National Right to Work Committee, No. 90-0571 (D.D.C. Feb. 15, 1996).