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Orloski v. FEC



On June 11, 1983, Mr. Orloski filed a complaint with the Commission concerning a picnic sponsored by a senior citizens group to allegedly influence the election of Mr. Orloski's general election opponent, Congressman Donald L. Ritter. Mr. Orloski claimed that the picnic was a political event and thus: (1) corporate funding of the picnic constituted prohibited contributions to Mr. Ritter's reelection campaign and (2) the senior citizens group's sponsorship of the event caused it to become a political committee subject to the Act.

The Commission had dismissed a similar complaint from Mr. Orloski a year earlier. While challenging the FEC's dismissal of his first complaint in the district court (Civil Action No. 83-0026), Mr. Orloski made factual allegations that were not contained in the original complaint. Accordingly, in May 1983, the district court issued an order and stipulation which dismissed the case but which allowed Mr. Orloski to file a second complaint with the FEC. The FEC considered Mr. Orloski's second complaint and, on October 4, 1983, once again found no reason to believe that the respondents named in the complaint had violated the election law. As a result of the FEC's action, Mr. Orloski decided to file a second suit against the Commission (Civil Action No. 83-3513).

Second suit, district court's ruling

On December 6, 1984, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted the FEC's motion for summary judgment in Orloski v. FEC. The court found that the Commission's decision to dismiss Mr. Orloski's second administrative complaint was not arbitrary or capricious.

The district court concluded that the FEC had not acted contrary to law in finding "no reason to believe" that the respondents named in Mr. Orloski's second administrative complaint had violated the election law. The court held that the FEC had properly concluded that the picnic sponsored by the senior citizens was not a political event and therefore not subject to the prohibitions and requirements of the election law. Specifically, the court confirmed the FEC's determination that: (1) there were no communications at the picnic that expressly advocated Congressman Ritter's election or Mr. Orloski's defeat (e.g., name tags worn by Congressman Ritter's staff); and (2) there was no evidence to indicate that contributions to Congressman Ritter's campaign were either solicited or accepted at the picnic. The court concluded, "Orloski does not offer any compelling reason to believe the FEC was arbitrary in applying the two part test discussed above. Instead, Orloski attempts to convince the Court to apply a new test of holding any event not funded from funds appropriated to a congressional office to be a political event....There is simply no support in the statute, legislative history, or judicial decisions construing the Act to support this broad test of political events."

Nor did the court find merit in Mr. Orloski's contention that the election law requires the FEC to investigate a complaint unless the complaint fails to allege violations of the election law. The court found that "rather than requiring the Commission to investigate all facially valid complaints...the Commission may consider all the information before it and exercise its own informed discretion.... Thus the task of a court reviewing a Commission determination not to investigate a facially valid complaint is to determine whether on the basis of all the information available to the Commission, the decision not to investigate was arbitrary or capricious. Here it is clear....that the Commission's decision met this standard."

On January 9, 1985, Mr. Orloski appealed the district court's ruling.

Appeals court's ruling

On July 11, 1986, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed a district court decision that the Commission's dismissal of an administrative complaint filed by Mr. Richard Orloski in June 1983 was not arbitrary or capricious. (Civil Action No. 85-5012)

To determine whether the picnic sponsored by the senior citizens group was a political event, subject to the prohibitions and requirements of the election law, the FEC had applied a two-part test, i.e., (1) whether any communications at the picnic expressly advocated Representative Ritter's election and (2) whether contributions to Representative Ritter's campaign were either solicited or accepted at the picnic.

In deferring to the FEC's use of this two-part test for determining whether such events are political, the appeals court held that:

  • "The FEC's interpretation represents a 'reasonable accommodation' between the Act's objectives and administrative exigencies."
  • "The FEC has consistently adhered to this interpretation without Congressional objection, for at least eight years."
  • "The recent history of the Act leads us to believe that Congress would approve of the line drawn by the FEC" between political and nonpolitical events. In particular, in amending the election law in 1979, Congress did not modify the FEC's interpretation of a campaign-related event.

The court then affirmed as reasonable the FEC's use of this two-part test to dismiss Mr. Orloski's administrative complaint. While noting that one part of the test (i.e., whether contributions were solicited) was not relevant to the picnic, the court held that the respondents had "strictly adhered to the FEC's narrow guidelines" for the second part of the test. None of the communications made in conjunction with the picnic expressly advocated Congressman Ritter's reelection. Accordingly, since the FEC properly determined that the picnic was not a political event, the court also confirmed the FEC's determination that corporate funding of the picnic did not constitute prohibited contributions to Mr. Ritter's reelection effort.

Finally, the court rejected Mr. Orloski's procedural challenges to the FEC's dismissal of his complaint. Specifically, Mr. Orloski claimed that, after giving the respondents an opportunity to reply to the allegation in his administrative complaint, the FEC should either have: (1) allowed Mr. Orloski to answer the respondents' replies or (2) made its "reason to believe" determination solely on the basis of Mr. Orloski's allegations.

The court rejected these procedural challenges on grounds that:

  • "Section 437g(a)(1) requires the FEC to notify parties charged in a complaint and to give them the opportunity to respond";
  • Since none of the facts of the case were in dispute, the FEC's conclusion would not have been affected by Mr. Orloski's replies; and
  • Finally, before filing his first district court suit, Mr. Orloski did, in fact, have an opportunity to respond to the respondent's replies concerning the allegations in his administrative complaint.

Source:   FEC RecordSeptember 1986; February 1985and February 1984. Orloski v. FEC, No. 83-3513 (D.D.C. Dec. 6, 1984) (mem. opinion), aff'd, 795 F.2d 156 (D.C. Cir. 1986).


Appeals Court (DC Circuit)

Court decisions:

Related documents: