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NRA v. FEC (84-1878 and 86-2285)


On July 31, 1984, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the FEC's motion to dismiss as moot a suit filed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) on June 19, 1984 (Civil Action No. 84-1878). In the suit, NRA had asked the court to declare that the FEC's failure to act within 120 days on an administrative complaint NRA had filed on December 1, 1983, was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of power and contrary to law. (See 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8)(A).) The FEC had petitioned the court to dismiss the suit as moot because, on July 31, 1984, the Commission had entered into a conciliation agreement with the respondent, Handgun Control, Inc. (HCI), thereby resolving the claims in NRA's administrative complaint.

On October 19, 1987, the district court dismissed a second suit in which NRA challenged the FEC's dismissal of a subsequent administrative complaint alleging further violations of the election law by HCI (Civil Action No. 86-2285).


At the time of the district court's decision in the second suit, NRA had filed a total of three administrative complaints with the FEC against HCI, an incorporated membership organization that supports restrictions on gun ownership. All three of NRA's complaints challenged HCI's status as a membership organization under the election law.

The first administrative complaint resulted in a conciliation agreement between the FEC and HCI in which the latter was required to reconstitute itself as a membership organization and to pay a $15,000 civil penalty. NRA had alleged that HCI at that time a nonprofit corporation without members and its separate segregated fund, HCI-PAC, had unlawfully solicited contributions from individuals beyond their solicitable class (i.e., the executive and administrative employees and their families). NRA's first lawsuit, charging that the FEC had violated the law by failing to act within 120 days of NRA's filing of the administrative complaint, was dismissed as moot after the conciliation agreement was achieved.

In its second and third administrative complaints, NRA alleged that HCI had not complied with the conciliation agreement and had violated §441b(b)(4)(A)(i) of the election law by soliciting contributions to its separate segregated fund from individuals who were not HCI members.

In dismissing NRA's second administrative complaint, the FEC found that HCI qualified as a membership organization, even though it had improperly applied the membership requirements retroactively to past contributors. With respect to NRA's third administrative complaint, the FEC found that the allegations were virtually identical to those raised in NRA's second complaint. Consequently, the agency dismissed the third complaint.

In its second suit NRA asked the court to declare that the FEC's dismissal of its third administrative complaint was contrary to law and to issue an order directing the FEC to initiate enforcement proceedings against HCI within 30 days of the court's order.

The FEC argued that, under §437g(a)(8)(B) of the election law, a party challenging the agency's dismissal of an administrative complaint must file suit within 60 days after the date of the dismissal. NRA did not petition for review of the FEC's dismissal of its second administrative complaint within the statutory time period. Instead, NRA reasserted its previously dismissed claim in a third administrative complaint, which the FEC contended amounted to nothing more than an attempt to obtain review beyond the 60-day period.

In dismissing NRA's suit, the court concurred with the FEC: "Regardless of how one would characterize the record herein, it is apparent that the issues and facts in all three complaints are substantially similar. More importantly, however, it is clear that the plaintiff failed to appeal the defendant's decision in the second complaint within the time period allowed by law."

On October 26, 1987, NRA filed an appeal of the district court decision with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Source:   FEC RecordDecember 1987; September 1984. National Rifle Assn. v. FEC, No. 86-2285 (D.D.C. Oct 19, 1987 ) (unpublished opinion), aff'd, 854 F.2d 1330.