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Judicial Watch, Inc. and Peter F. Paul v. FEC (1:01CV02527)


On August 30, 2003, the U.S. Court for the District of Columbia granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment in this case.[1] The court found that the plaintiff, Peter F. Paul, lacked standing to seek judicial relief in this instance because he had suffered no injury and that Judicial Watch, Inc., was precluded from bringing suit against the Commission because it was not a party to the administrative complaint underlying the court complaint.


On December 7, 2001, Judicial Watch, a non-profit, public interest organization, and Mr. Paul, an alleged donor to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senatorial campaign committee (the Committee), asked the court to find that the Commission acted contrary to law when it failed to respond to an administrative complaint filed by Mr. Paul, who was represented by Judicial Watch. The administrative complaint, filed July 16, 2001, alleged that the Committee violated the Federal Election Campaign Act's (the Act) contribution limits by accepting cash and in-kind contributions from Mr. Paul totaling nearly $2 million. 2 U.S.C. §441a and 11 CFR 110.1 and 110.9. The administrative complaint further alleged that the Committee failed to report the contributions. 2 U.S.C. §434(b) and 11 CFR 104.3. Before the court, Mr. Paul and Judicial Watch claimed that the Commission failed to act on the complaint within 120 days, as required by the Act, and that this failure caused them "informational injury" because they were deprived of information they sought when the administrative complaint was filed. See 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A).

Court decision

Parties to the complaint

Under the Act, a party that files an administrative complaint with the Commission may file a petition with the court if the Commission dismisses or fails to act on an administrative complaint. 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A). Thus, while the Act provides for some judicial review of Commission administrative actions, the plain language of the statute also makes clear that this relief is only available to parties to the administrative complaint.

In this case, Mr. Paul was the only person listed as a party to the administrative complaint filed with the Commission. The complaint was printed on Judicial Watch letterhead, but Judicial Watch identified Mr. Paul as its "client" and did not mention that it was also a party to the complaint. Mr. Paul was the only party who signed the complaint. The court determined that Judicial Watch only acted as counsel to Mr. Paul and not as a party to the administrative complaint. As a result, Judicial Watch is barred from seeking judicial relief in this case.


In order to have standing to bring a case in federal court, the plaintiff must satisfy a three-part test. The plaintiff must:

  • Suffer an "injury in fact"-that is, an invasion of an interest that is concrete and particularized and also actual or imminent rather than just hypothetical;
  • Show that the injury is fairly traceable to the defendant's allegedly unlawful conduct; and
  • Show that the injury is likely to be redressed by the relief that the plaintiff requests.

Mr. Paul argued that he suffered injury in fact because:

  • He was deprived of information regarding Senator Clinton's alleged campaign finance reporting violations as they pertained to his contributions;
  • He may be a future defendant in any possible FEC investigation of these alleged violations and has been deprived of information that might help him in his defense; and
  • The Commission's delay in acting on his administrative complaint is in itself an injury.

The court found that Mr. Paul did not, as a result of being denied this information, suffer an injury that granted him standing to bring suit against the Commission. The court determined that because Mr. Paul was already aware of the facts underlying his own alleged contributions to the campaign, he was really seeking a legal determination by the Commission that Senator Clinton violated the Act. In a previous court case, the D.C. Circuit Court determined that a plaintiff does not satisfy the standing requirement if the information withheld is only the fact that a violation of the Act has occurred. See Common Cause v. FEC, 108 F.3d 418.

Moreover, the court disagreed with Mr. Paul's claim that he suffered an informational injury because he is unable to use information from an FEC investigation to amass his defense against a possible future enforcement action. The court found that this purported injury was merely speculative, and Mr. Paul had "not suffered an injury in fact by being deprived of information that may assist his defense in a possible FEC investigation." Finally, the court found that Mr. Paul had suffered only a procedural injury as a result of the Commission's failure to meet the 120-day deadline.[2]


Having concluded that Judicial Watch was not a party to this case and that Mr. Paul did not have standing to bring suit in this matter, the court granted the Commission's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the plaintiff's case with prejudice.


[1] The court may grant summary judgment when there is "no genuine dispute of material fact" and "the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

[2] Having found that Mr. Paul lacked standing because he did not suffer an injury in fact, the court did not address the Commission's argument that Mr. Paul was precluded from bringing suit under the fugitive disentitlement doctrine because he is a fugitive from justice from charges pending in federal court in New York.

Source: FEC Record— November 2003 and March 2002.