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Galliano v. United States Postal Service


On January 8, 1988, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an opinion in Ralph J. Galliano v. U.S. Postal Service, which reversed a decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissing the plaintiff's suit. The appeals court found that specific provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) control, in part, the application of 39 U.S.C. §3005 to political solicitations named in the plaintiff's suit. The appeals court therefore returned the case to the district court with instructions for the court to remand it to the U.S. Postal Service. In light of the appeals court opinion, the Postal Service must reconsider its decision concerning the political solicitations named in the case.


During 1983 and 1984 the Congressional Majority Committee (CMC), a multicandidate political committee, mailed out letters soliciting contributions to CMC's independent expenditure project, Americans for Phil Gramm in '84 (APG), supporting then-Congressman Gramm's candidacy for the U.S. Senate. The disclaimer notices in the first mailing failed to state that the solicitation was not authorized by any candidate.

In subsequent solicitation mailings, however, CMC did include such a disclaimer.

Alarmed that the APG solicitations were potentially misleading contributors and diverting funds away from his own authorized campaign committee, Congressman Gramm, a Republican from Texas, filed a complaint with the FEC against CMC, alleging that CMC had violated the election law by:

  • Using Gramm's name in the title of its independent expenditure project (2 U.S.C. §432(e)(4)); and
  • Failing to clearly state in its solicitations that CMC had not been authorized by Congressman Gramm (2 U.S.C. §441d(a)(3)).

The Commission found probable cause to believe that CMC had violated the election law by failing to include a disclaimer notice in its first solicitation mailings. The Commission was evenly divided, however, on the issue of whether CMC had violated the law by including Congressman Gramm's name in the title of its independent expenditure project. In July 1985 the Commission entered into a conciliation agreement with CMC and closed the file on the case.

After filing his complaint with the FEC, Congressman Gramm took two other steps: He filed a suit with the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and a complaint with the U.S. Postal Service.

In the suit he filed with the Virginia district court,[1] Gramm claimed that CMC's use of his name in the title of the independent expenditure project had violated a Virginia law against unauthorized use of a person's name. Nevertheless, the district court denied Congressman Gramm's request for injunctive relief, stating that "the Federal Election [Campaign] Act arguably provides the exclusive remedy for the plaintiff's allegation.... "

In the complaint he filed with the U.S. Postal Service, Congressman Gramm asserted that CMC's solicitations contained false representations and thus violated 39 U.S.C. §3005, a provision governing postal fraud outside the purview of the FECA.

The Postal Service found, among other things, that the committee's solicitation mailings implicitly made the false representation that Americans for Phil Gramm in '84 was authorized to collect funds for Congressman Gramm's campaign, and that the funds would be spent by Gramm's authorized committee. The Postal Service further concluded that the disclaimer notice required by the election law (Section 441d(a)(3)) did not adequately inform the recipients that the solicitation was not authorized by Congressman Gramm.

District court ruling

On August 7, 1985, Ralph J. Galliano, chairman of CMC, along with CMC and APG (hereafter collectively referred to as APG), contested the Postal Service's decision in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The district court affirmed the Postal Service's decision and dismissed APG's suit.

On November 13, 1986, Mr. Galliano appealed the district court decision. At the request of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the FEC filed a friend of the court brief, which addressed the issue of whether specific provisions of the FECA would displace the application of 39 U.S.C. §3005 to the political solicitations named in the suit.

FEC's amicus brief

In its brief the FEC noted that Congress had enacted two provisions of the election law "to ensure the public is informed of the true source of political solicitations and whether they are authorized by a candidate." First, Section 432(e)(4) requires committees authorized by candidates to adopt a name which includes the candidate's name; it requires unauthorized committees to adopt a name which does not contain the name of any candidate. Second, Section 441d(a)(3) requires that fundraising solicitations by unauthorized committees state clearly the committee's name and "that the communication is not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."

Further, the FEC argued, since Congress had granted the agency exclusive jurisdiction over provisions of the law, "matters covered by the Act must be brought before the Commission in the first instance even if another statute might otherwise arguably be applicable."

The FEC went on to note that "the courts have long recognized that tension between a statute of general application and a statute specifically addressed to a particular subject must be resolved in favor of the specific statute." The Commission therefore argued that, while Section 3005 may be applied generally to protect the public from "fraudulent political fundraising schemes," this provision cannot be applied "in a manner that overrides the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commission to deal with those matters Congress has specifically resolved in the FECA." Thus, the Commission concluded that "the Postal Service's decision should be reversed only to the extent that it interferes with the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commission and specific provisions of the FECA."

Appeals court ruling

Reversing the district court ruling, the appeals court held "that the FEC is the exclusive administrative arbiter of questions concerning the name identifications and disclaimers of organizations soliciting political contributions. As to representations not specifically regulated by FECA, however,... nothing in or about the Act limits the 39 U.S.C. §3005 enforcement authority of the Postal Service."

The court held that the FECA's disclaimer requirements for political solicitations maintained a proper balance between protection of First Amendment rights of free speech and the public's right to be protected from fraudulent solicitations. The court said that "a fine balance of interests was deliberately struck by Congress in the name and disclaimer requirements of FECA...We believe they were meant to provide a safe haven to candidates and political organizations with respect to those organizations' names and sponsorship. If FECA requirements are met, then as we comprehend that legislation, no further constraints on names and disclaimers may be imposed by other governmental authorities."

The court concluded, however, that solicitations for political contributions were not "entirely immune from Postal Service scrutiny under Section 3005. Apart from the name of a political organization and the presence or absence of sponsorship disclaimer, much may appear in a solicitation for political contributions that could materially deceive readers and thereby constitute a false representation under 3005."


[1] See Friends of Phil Gramm v. Americans for Phil Gramm in '84, 587 F. Supp. 767 (E.D. Va. 1986).

Source:   FEC Record March 1988; and January 1988. Galliano v. United States Postal Service, 836 F.2d 1362 (D.C. Cir. 1988).