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Hopfmann v. FEC



In filing the suit with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in December 1982, Mr. Hopfmann petitioned the court to declare that the FEC's dismissal of an administrative complaint, which he had filed in September 1982 against Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the Committee to Re-Elect Senator Kennedy, was contrary to law. See 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A). Mr. Hopfmann also asked the district court to certify to a U.S. appeals court certain constitutional challenges involving FEC actions and the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act). 2 U.S.C. §437h.

In seeking the Massachusetts State Democratic Party's endorsement as candidates for the U.S. Senate, both Mr. Hopfmann and Senator Kennedy participated in the Party's May 1982 pre-primary convention. Under the Party's "15 percent Rule," only candidates receiving at least 15 percent of the votes cast at the Party's pre-primary convention appear on the state's primary ballot. Senator Kennedy obtained ballot access by receiving at least 15 percent of the votes cast at the convention. Mr. Hopfmann, on the other hand, failed to receive ballot access because he received less than 15 percent of the total votes cast.

In the administrative complaint he had filed with the FEC, Mr. Hopfmann claimed that, since the convention vote had resulted in the Party's exclusive endorsement of Senator Kennedy, the convention had the authority to nominate a candidate and therefore met the election law's definition of an "election."[1] Based on this assumption, Mr. Hopfmann alleged that Senator Kennedy and his campaign committee had failed to file timely pre-election reports and may have received excessive contributions. See 2 U.S.C. §§434(a),(b) and 441a(f), respectively.

District court's ruling

On March 8, 1984, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an opinion in Alwin E. Hopfmann v. FEC, which granted both the FEC's motion for summary judgment and its motion to dismiss certain constitutional challenges brought by Mr. Hopfmann in the suit. (Civil Action No. 82-3667)

The district court found that the FEC's decision to dismiss the complaint was "'sufficiently reasonable' to merit [the] Court's deference." Specifically, the court held that the FEC General Counsel's report on the complaint adequately set out the Commission's reasons for dismissing the case. Moreover, the FEC's determination was consistent with previous FEC decisions.

With regard to constitutional challenges raised by Mr. Hopfmann, the court concluded that "plaintiff's challenges do not raise substantial constitutional questions, are frivolous and are not based on any coherent legal theory."

Appeals court's ruling

On May 13, 1985, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling that the FEC's decision to dismiss an administrative complaint filed by Alwin Hopfmann was not contrary to law (Civil Action No. 82-03667). The appeals court also affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss the constitutional questions involving FEC actions and the election law. The court found that Mr. Hopfmann's "appeal was so meritless as to be frivolous" and, as a penalty, ordered him to pay the Commission's attorneys' fees. Moreover, the appeals court found that Mr. Hopfmann's appeal "should properly be dismissed in view of appellant's failure to comply with orders of this court." The appeals court's ruling followed a July 1984 ruling in which the court had denied expedited consideration of Mr. Hopfmann's appeal.

In affirming the district court's decision that the FEC's dismissal of Mr. Hopfmann's complaint was "'sufficiently reasonable' to merit [the] Court's deference," the appeals court noted that the agency "has consistently held that in order for a convention to constitute an 'election' under 2 U.S.C. §431(1)(B), the convention must actually nominate a candidate, rather than...narrow the field of candidates on the primary ballot....Inasmuch as write-in candidates were permitted by state law in the 1982 Massachusetts primary, Senator Kennedy did not secure the Democratic nomination until he won the party's primary. In consequence, the Massachusetts Democratic Convention of 1982 was not an 'election' under the FECA." Consequently, there were no separate reporting requirements for the convention.

As to Mr. Hopfmann's constitutional claims, the court found that "it is not within the FEC's province to determine whether Massachusetts ' primary system satisfies the federal Constitution. That is a claim that Mr. Hopfman must make, if at all, to the courts; we take note in this respect of an adverse decision in litigation brought by Mr. Hopfmann claiming that the Massachusetts system was unconstitutional. Hopfmann v. Connolly, 746 F.2d 97 (1st Cir. 1984)."

The court described one of Mr. Hopfmann's court papers as "filled with invective and scurrilous comments...." Since he had failed to comply with two court orders, the court found dismissal of his appeal justifiable under court rules. The court stated that "having considered the merits of the case, we conclude that the appeal is in any event utterly without merit....We firmly admonish counsel for appellant to refrain in any future filings in this court from engaging in unprofessional, inappropriate comments and outrageous name-calling." On July 19, 1985, the court denied Mr. Hopfmann's petition for rehearing en banc.

Petition for certiorari

On December 26, 1985, the Supreme Court denied a petition for a writ of certiorari filed by Mr. Hopfmann. He had sought Supreme Court review of the appeals court ruling.

On May 5, 1986, the Supreme Court denied Mr. Hopfmann's petition for rehearing.


[1] The Act defines an election to include "a convention or caucus of a political party which has authority to nominate a candidate." 2 U.S.C. §431(1)(B).

Source: FEC RecordJune 1986; February 1986; September 1985; July 1985; September 1984; May 1984. Hopfmann v. FEC, No. 84-5201 (D.C. Cir. May 13, 1985) (unpublished opinion), aff'd, 762 F.2d 138 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 1038 (1985).