Martin Tractor Co. v. FEC
This suit, filed on July 7, 1978, challenged the constitutionality of Section 441b of the Act, which limits solicitations by corporations and their separate segregated funds (PACs) of voluntary contributions to the PACs.
Three corporations and their affiliated PACs, three executives and one hourly employee of one of the corporations were the plaintiffs in this suit. They sought injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that 441b of Title 2 is an unconstitutional violation of plaintiffs' rights under the First and Fifth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that:
- The limitations on the corporate solicitation of hourly employees for contributions to the corporate PAC unconstitutionally impinge upon plaintiffs' rights to free speech, assembly and association and the right to hear, under the First Amendment. (Under Section 441b, corporations and their PACs may use corporate funds to solicit employees twice a year; the solicitations must be in writing and delivered to the employee's residence.)
- The limitations on the solicitation of hourly employees violate plaintiff employee's right to associate with the other plaintiffs.
- These same limitations, by arbitrarily dividing employees into two classes and restricting free flow of information between such classes, discriminate against plaintiff employee in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to due process of law.
- The term "solicitation" as used in 441b is impermissibly vague, causing plaintiffs to be uncertain as to the extent and application of the prohibitions of 2 U.S.C. §441b. When combined with the treatment of criminal sanctions, plaintiffs asserted, this vagueness restrains their activity, in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments.
Plaintiffs argued that the harm brought about by Section 441b was actual, not hypothetical, because plaintiffs have limited their solicitation activities, fearing the imposition of the civil and criminal sanctions contained in the Act.
The FEC petitioned the court to dismiss the suit, arguing first that the court lacked jurisdiction because:
- Special statutory judicial review mechanisms, such as Section 437h of the Act, are the exclusive avenues for judicial review.
- Under Section 437h of the Act, the Commission, the national committee of any political party, or any individual eligible to vote may bring appropriate actions to challenge the constitutionality of the Act. The Commission argued that none of the plaintiffs were eligible to bring such an action under Section 437h.
- Challenges brought by any other person or entity must be raised during the ordinary course of enforcement procedures provided in Section 437g of the Act.
The Commission also argued that the complaint did not present a "case or controversy" because plaintiffs can make no showing of present, direct injury resulting from Section 441b. The Commission made the additional argument that plaintiffs failed to state a complaint upon which relief could be granted. In response to the plaintiffs' contention that the term "solicitation" is impermissibly vague, the FEC argued that the term has been employed in a wide variety of federal statutes without further definition and with no apparent need to "guess at its meaning."
District court ruling
On November 18, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the Commission's motion to dismiss the suit. The court said that the special provision of 2 U.S.C. §437h(a), expediting judicial review of constitutional issues, is inapplicable to the plaintiffs. The individual plaintiffs sue "not in their individual capacities but rather to vindicate the rights of the corporate entities. That derivative right was not the constitutional right of an 'individual eligible to vote' which Congress considered 'appropriate' for vindication in a declaratory judgment action under this section [437h]." Moreover, the court held that the plaintiffs presented no case or controversy sufficiently ripe for decision by a federal court. Plaintiffs filed an appeal.
Appeals court ruling
On May 8, 1980, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the opinion of the district court (No. 78-2080).
Source: FEC Record — February 1979. Martin Tractor Co. v. FEC, 460 F. Supp. 1017 (D.D.C. 1978), aff'd, 627 F.2d 375 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 954 (1980).