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Friends for Houghton v. FEC (01-6444)


On July 23, 2002, the U. S. District Court for the Western District of New York denied Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case.


On September 13, 2001, Friends for Houghton (the Committee) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, appealing a civil money penalty for failure to timely file the Committee's 2000 Pre-Primary Report.

Section 437g(b) of the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) requires the Commission to notify any principal campaign committee of a House or Senate candidate that may have failed to file a required pre-election report or a quarterly report before an election of its failure to file such report, prior to taking action against that committee. If the committee does not file the report within four business days of the notification, the Commission must publish, before the election, the name of that committee as having failed to file the report. If the committee demonstrates that the report had been timely filed or files the report within the four business days, the Commission will not publish its name before the relevant election.

Additionally, under the Commission's Administrative Fine program, election-sensitive reports[1] are subject to the schedule of penalties for "late" reports if they are filed after their due date, but more than four days before an election. Committees filing later than that, or failing to file at all, are subject to the schedule of penalties for reports that are "not filed."

According to the allegations in the complaint, Congressman Amo Houghton was a candidate in the New York primary held September 12, 2000. As a result, his campaign committee was required to file a pre-primary report on August 31. On September 1, the Commission sent a notice to the Committee indicating that it may have failed to file its pre-primary report, and that it would have four business days from the date of the notice to file the report. Because of the Labor Day holiday, the fourth business day after the Commission's September 1, 2000, notice was September 8. The Committee filed the report on that day.

On October 17, 2000, the Commission found reason to believe that the Committee and its treasurer had violated 2 U.S.C. §434(a), which requires the timely filing of reports by political committees. Having filed its pre-primary report less than five days before the election, the committee was subject to the schedule of penalties for reports that are "not filed." The Commission assessed a civil money penalty in the amount of $9,000 in accordance with 11 CFR 111.43. In its complaint, the Committee asked the court to order the Commission to modify both its determination that the Committee was a nonfiler and its assessment of the civil money penalty.


The court observed that while the Commission's notice informed the Committee that the Commission was considering taking action against it and provided the Committee with a four business-day window to file its report and avoid the publication of its name, "Section 437g(b) does not . . . attach any additional significance to the four business-day rule. More specifically, 437g(b) does not indicate that, by filing within four business days, the late filing is excused [and] that the person avoids a monetary penalty."

Thus, while a committee has four additional business days to file a report in order to avoid the publication of its name before the election, neither the Act nor Commission regulations provide a grace period for calculating a penalty under the Administrative Fine program.

The court dismissed the case.


[1] Election sensitive reports are those filed immediately before an election and include pre-primary, pre-special, pre-general, October Quarterly and October monthly reports.

Source:   FEC RecordSeptember 2002