FEC v. NCPAC (85-2898)
On April 29, 1987, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted plaintiff's motions for summary judgment and dismissal of defendants' counterclaim in FEC v. National Conservative Political Action Committee (Civil Action No. 85-2898). The court found that the defendants had violated the law by failing to include a statement in their solicitation material clearly identifying the person who paid for the communication.
During the 1984 election cycle, NCPAC mounted a $10 million independent expenditure campaign advocating the reelection of President Reagan. As part of this project, NCPAC mailed out materials urging the reelection of the President and soliciting contributions to finance its expenditures for this effort. The solicitation material did not identify who paid for it. Under the Act and Commission regulations, any communication which expressly advocates the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate or which solicits contributions must clearly display a disclaimer identifying the person(s) who paid for the communication. 2 U.S.C. §441d(a)(3).
On April 23, 1985, after attempting to resolve this enforcement matter through informal methods of conciliation, the Commission filed suit against the defendants in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In its complaint, the FEC sought the following:
- A judgment declaring that the defendants violated the law by failing to include a proper disclaimer in their solicitation material;
- An order permanently enjoining the defendants from repeating the violation;
- An assessment of a civil penalty; and
- An award of attorney's fees and costs incurred by the FEC.
In their counterclaim, the defendants sought review of the FEC's decision to bring this action pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. §701 et seq. The defendants claimed that the FEC decision was "final agency action" within the meaning of section 704 of the APA and, therefore, reviewable. Furthermore, the defendants claimed that the FEC decision was "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion under the APA" because the Commission had declined to initiate a civil enforcement action in another similar case. Finally, in denying the alleged violation of the Act, the defendants argued that the use of the NCPAC postal frank and other references throughout the material made it quite clear who paid for the communication. In their view, therefore, a specific disclaimer was not necessary.
In ruling that the defendants had violated 2 U.S.C. §441d(a)(3), the court said that "the Act and regulations do not provide for disclaimers by inference and the court is consequently of the view that these repeated references to NCPAC which appear within the materials do not satisfy section 441d's disclaimer requirement."
The court also dismissed the defendants' counterclaim. Citing an earlier Supreme Court case, the court held that the initiation of enforcement proceedings does not constitute "final agency action" and is, therefore, not subject to judicial review under the APA. Regarding the defendants' allegation that the FEC exercised selective prosecution against NCPAC, the court ruled that one isolated instance of nonenforcement was not evidence that NCPAC was being singled out for prosecution and that even if it were, defendants produced no evidence demonstrating that this action resulted from an improper motive.
Finally, the court assessed a civil penalty of $3,000 against the defendants. On June 27, 1987, the defendants filed a motion to stay the decision.
Source: FEC Record — July 1987. FEC v. National Conservative Political Action Committee, No. 85-2898 (D.D.C. April 29, 1987) (unpublished opinion).