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Goland v. United States; United States v. Goland


On May 21, 1990, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss the suit and to deny appellant's motion to certify constitutional challenges to the Federal Election Campaign Act. (Civil Action No. 89-55422.) Appellant Michael R. Goland had claimed that the First Amendment guaranteed his right to make unlimited anonymous contributions to candidates.

Background (U.S. v. Goland)

On December 14, 1988, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Mr. Goland for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act and criminal statutes stemming from his activities during the 1986 Senatorial election in California. According to the indictments, he advanced $120,000 to a media company to produce advertisements for Ed Vallen, a third-party candidate for the Senate seat. Mr. Goland actually wanted Democratic Senator Alan Cranston to win the election and financed the last-minute Vallen effort in order to divert votes from the Republican candidate, Ed Zschau. Mr. Goland tried to conceal his identity as the donor of the $120,000 contribution by funneling the money through 56 persons, who were later reimbursed by Mr. Goland. The Vallen campaign, uninformed of the true source of the contribution, reported the money as contributions from the 56 individuals.

The federal grand jury indicted Mr. Goland on criminal violations, charging that he had knowingly and willfully caused the treasurer of the Vallen campaign to make false statements to the FEC for the purpose of concealing his $120,000 contribution. 18 U.S.C. §§371 and 1001. Additionally, Mr. Goland was charged with violating the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) by exceeding the $1,000 contribution limit and by making a contribution in the name of another. 2 U.S.C. §§441a and 441f.[1]

District court decision

On March 13, 1989, after the December 1988 criminal indictment, Mr. Goland filed civil suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. (Civil Action No. 89-1480.) Pursuant to 2 U.S.C. §437h, he sought immediate certification by the district judge of three constitutional challenges to the Act, as applied. He claimed that the Act's contribution limits and disclosure provisions violated his constitutional rights. He further claimed that the First Amendment protected his right to make unlimited anonymous contributions to a third-party candidate. Mr. Goland also sought a stay of the pending criminal proceeding. On May 1, 1989, the court dismissed the suit with prejudice, finding that the Supreme Court had already addressed appellant's constitutional questions in Buckley v. Valeo. Concluding that the constitutional claims were frivolous under Buckley, the court denied plaintiff's motion for certification and stay. Mr. Goland immediately filed an appeal.

Appeals court decision

On May 11, 1989, the appeals court denied his motion for a stay of the criminal trial but agreed to review the district court's dismissal of the constitutional questions. In its opinion of May 21, 1990, the court affirmed the district court's judgment, denying appellant's constitutional challenges and dismissing the suit.

The appeals court first considered whether Mr. Goland had standing to bring a constitutional challenge. The court found that "Goland satisfies the traditional standing criteria: he has alleged an actual or threatened injury; that injury was caused by the challenged act; and that injury is apt to be redressed by a favorable decision." The court observed that "[a] successful constitutional challenge to FECA provisions would give at least partial redress to Goland."

The appeals court ruled that the district court was acting within its discretion by dismissing the suit once it found the constitutional issues were frivolous. A complaint is frivolous when none of the legal points are arguable on their merits. In this case, the issues raised by Mr. Goland had already been resolved by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976).

Appellant argued that Buckley did not resolve the issues he raised. He claimed that the reasoning the Supreme Court applied in upholding the contribution limits "to prevent quid pro quo corruption or the appearance of corruption" did not apply to his claim. There was no opportunity for exacting a quid pro quo deal since he sought to keep his identity secret. Further, because the candidate (Vallen) had no chance of winning the election, he would not be in a position to exchange official favors for money.

The court rejected this argument, pointing out that there is no assurance that a donor's identity will remain secret forever and, even if there were, the Act's disclosure provisions prohibit anonymous contributions exceeding $50. (See 2 U.S.C. §432(c)(2).) Moreover, Buckley upheld the application of contribution limits to minor party candidates as well as to candidates likely to win. Id. at 30-31.

Appellant Goland also argued that the Act's disclosure requirements as they relate to anonymous contributions to a third-party candidate were unconstitutional on their face and as applied to him. He based his claim on the historic constitutional protection given to anonymous political speech, citing several Supreme Court cases.

The court found that Mr. Goland could not avail himself of this protection. The Supreme Court in Buckley carefully considered the danger posed by compelled disclosure but held that state interests justified the indirect burden imposed by the Act's disclosure requirements on First Amendment interests. The appeals court concluded: "the [Supreme] Court carved out a narrow exception to the line of cases Goland relies on, and that exception encompasses Goland's activities."

In response to appellant's emphasis on the minor party status of the recipient candidate, the court stated that the Buckley Court provided an exception to the disclosure provisions for those parties that could show a "reasonable probability" that disclosure would subject their contributors to "threats, harassment, or reprisals." Id. at 74. The appeals court noted that appellant Goland "[did] not even attempt to make such a showing." The court also observed that Mr. Goland "was not promoting a reviled cause or candidate."

Finally, Mr. Goland argued that the substantial state interests that the Buckley Court found to justify the disclosure requirements did not apply to anonymous contributions made to a candidate with whom the donor disagrees.

The appeals court found no merit in this argument, observing that one purpose behind the disclosure provisions is "to keep the electorate fully informed of the sources of campaign funding....There is valuable information to be gained by knowing that Vallen took $120,000 from a Cranston supporter." Another purpose behind the Act's disclosure provisions is "to gather the data necessary to detect violations of the contribution limits." The court said that if Goland's position were adopted, one could avoid the contribution limits simply by making an anonymous contribution.


[1] The first criminal trial, which concluded on July 10, 1989, resulted in a mistrial because of a hung jury. On September 19, 1989, a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment charging additional violations of the Act's contribution limits and of criminal statutes. The second trial ended on May 3, 1990. Mr. Goland was convicted on one misdemeanor count of making an excessive contribution. He was acquitted on four other counts of conspiracy and making false statements. The jury deadlocked on one felony count of making false statements. On July 16, 1990, Mr. Goland received a federal prison sentence of 90 days on the one conviction (excessive contribution).

Source:   FEC RecordAugust 1990; Goland v. United States, 903 F.2d 1247 (9th Cir. 1990).