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Fund for a Conservative Majority v. FEC (80-1609)


On October 19, 1983 , the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order denying the Fund for a Conservative Majority's (FCM's) petition for further relief in a consolidated suit originally decided by the court in September 1980. (Common Cause v. Harrison Schmitt [FEC Intervenor]; FEC v. Americans for Change; [1] Civil Action Nos. 80-1609 and 80-1754.) The court also denied a motion filed by the National Congressional Club (NCC) and the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) to intervene in FCM's petition and dismissed the petition with prejudice.

In FEC v. NCPAC and FCM [2] the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on December 12, 1983, refused to allow the FEC to implement 26 U.S.C. §9012(f). (Civil Action No. 83-2823.) The Federal Election Commission filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on December 16.


In its September 1980 ruling, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that Section 9012(f) was unconstitutional as applied to Americans for Change, Americans for an Effective Presidency and FCM, three multicandidate political committees (not affiliated with any parent organization). They had planned to make expenditures in excess of $1,000 to support the Republican Presidential nominee's general election campaign.

On January 19, 1982 , the Supreme Court voted 4 to 4 to affirm the D.C. district court's September decision, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor not participating. However, since the high Court's vote on the suit had been equally divided, its affirmance had no precedential value. Subsequently, the FEC issued advisory opinions to NCPAC and FCM in which the FEC stated that Section 9012(f) may be enforced.[3]

District court's ruling

On June 16, 1983, FCM filed a petition with the D.C. district court. (Civil Action No. CA 80-1609) Citing the D.C. district court's 1980 ruling in the first suit, FCM asked the court to:

  • Order the FEC to dismiss its suit against NCPAC and FCM in the Pennsylvania district court;
  • Prohibit the FEC from filing suits in state and federal courts which seek to enforce or to construe Section 9012(f)(1);
  • Direct the FEC to withdraw an advisory opinion (AO 1983-11) issued to FCM on May 18, 1983, which stated that FCM would be subject to the $1,000 spending limit imposed by Section 9012(f)(1) should FCM make expenditures on behalf of the publicly funded Republican Presidential nominee in 1984; and
  • Direct the FEC to issue an alternative advisory opinion to FCM stating that FCM's proposed expenditures would not be subject to Section 9012(f)(1).

In dismissing FCM's petition, the D.C. district court judges found no merit to FCM's contention that the FEC could not file suit in the Pennsylvania district court because the issues raised by the suit had already been resolved by the D.C. district court's ruling in 1980.[4] The D.C. district court found, to the contrary, that the FEC's second suit raised new issues. "The controversy in the original suit decided by the [D.C. district] court stemmed from FCM's planned expenditures for then-Presidential hopeful Reagan's 1980 campaign, not from planned expenditures by other parties [i.e., NCPAC], and not from FCM's planned expenditures for the 1984 presidential election." The court also cited legal precedent which permitted federal agencies "to relitigate substantially legal issues raised by different transactions or events, after adverse decisions elsewhere." Western Oil and Gas Association v. Environmental Protection Agency, 633 F.2d 803, 808.

Furthermore, the D.C. district court found that, in filing its second suit with the Pennsylvania district court, the FEC had not intended to undermine the D.C. district court's ruling in the first suit. The court conceded that the "constitutional issues remained unsettled" as a result of the high Court's evenly divided decision.

Since the high Court has not yet resolved the constitutionality of Section 9012(f), the D.C. district court asserted that, as the federal agency charged with enforcing the provision, the "FEC must legitimately be permitted to retry the legal issue of section 9012(f)'s constitutionality" until "it is finally settled by the Supreme Court." The district court maintained that Congress had placed a special importance "on FEC participation in actions construing the Fund Act, and on quick Supreme Court review."

The D.C. district court also found that FCM had provided no evidence to indicate that the FEC's second suit had caused it "unwarranted inconvenience or harm." Moreover, the D.C. district court held that in attempting to enjoin the FEC from seeking a resolution of Section 9012(f)'s constitutionality in the Pennsylvania district court, FCM should directly petition the Pennsylvania district court.


[1] See FEC v. Americans for Change.

[2] See FEC v. National Conservative Political Action Committee and Fund for a Conservative Majority.

[3] For a summary of AO's 1983-10 and 1983-11, see p. 2 of the July 1983 Record.

[4] Under the doctrine of collateral estoppel, when an issue of ultimate fact has been determined by a valid judgment, that issue cannot be relitigated between the same parties.

Source:   FEC Record January 1984.