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FEC v. Re-Elect Hollenbeck to Congress


On June 16, 1986, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the Commission's motion for summary judgment and entered a judgment for the defendants in FEC v. Re-Elect Hollenbeck to Congress Committee (Civil Action No. 85-2239). The court held that the Re-Elect Hollenbeck to Congress Committee (the Hollenbeck Committee), Representative Hollenbeck's principal campaign committee for his 1982 reelection effort, and the Hollenbeck Committee's treasurer, David I. Korsh, had not knowingly violated the election law by accepting an excessive contribution from the New Jersey Republican State Committee.[1]


In 1982, when the New Jersey Republican State Committee (the State Committee) made a $5,000 contribution to the Hollenbeck Committee, the State Committee had not achieved multicandidate committee status[2] because it had not yet satisfied the six-month registration requirement. Consequently, the State Committee was only eligible to make a contribution of up to $1,000 per election to each candidate, and the Hollenbeck Committee could legally receive only $1,000 for the primary election.

On learning of the State Committee's excessive contributions, the FEC initiated enforcement proceedings against the State Committee, the campaign committee of each New Jersey Republican incumbent and their respective treasurers. When the Commission failed to reach a settlement with the Hollenbeck Committee, the agency filed a suit against the Committee in which it asked the district court to: (1) assess a $5,000 civil penalty against the defendants for violating 441a(f) of the Act in accepting the State Committee's excessive contribution and (2) order the Hollenbeck Committee and its treasurer to refund the excessive portion of the contribution (i.e., $4,000) to the State Committee.

Acknowledging receipt of the $5,000 contribution, the Hollenbeck Committee denied "knowingly accepting" an illegal contribution. The Committee argued that it had "erroneously assumed that the State Committee had qualified for the status of a multicandidate political committee."

The court's ruling

The court noted that, under FEC regulations, a campaign committee's "treasurer shall make his or her best efforts to determine the legality of any contribution"3 made to the campaign. The court observed that this regulation was "not unduly burdensome. It does not place an affirmative obligation upon the treasurers to verify the legality of every contribution. Rather, it requires verification of contributions that 'appear to be illegal,' including those exceeding $1,000 that do not appear to come from a multicandidate committee."

In ruling that the Hollenbeck Committee should not be held liable for the State Committee's excessive contribution, the court held that the State Committee's contribution to the Hollenbeck Committee "would appear to be legal to any reasonable treasurer.... "


[1] On July 25, 1986 , the U.S. District court for the District of New Jersey found that another New Jersey House incumbent campaigning for reelection in 1982 had knowingly accepted an excessive contribution from the New Jersey Republican State Committee. See FEC v. Dramesi for Congress Committee.

[2] Multicandidate committees may contribute up to $5,000 per election to a candidate's authorized committee(s) or any other political committee. To achieve multicandidate status, a committee must have more than 50 contributors, have been registered for at least six months and, with the exception of state party committees, have made contributions to five or more candidates for federal office. 2 U.S.C. §441a(a)(4); 11 CFR 100.5(e)(3). 3 See 11 CFR 103.3(b)(1).

Source:   FEC RecordAugust 1986