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Perot '96 v. FEC (98-1022)


On April 12, 1999, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed this case with prejudice at the plaintiff's request.

Perot '96, the 1996 committee of former Reform Party Presidential candidate Ross Perot, had asked the court to find that the FEC acted contrary to law in dismissing an administrative complaint that Perot '96 had filed against the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). The CPD had sponsored the 1996 Presidential debates to which Mr. Perot was not invited to participate.

Perot '96 had asked the court to order the FEC to take action on the complaint or to find that the agency's regulations governing nonpartisan candidate debates were unconstitutional. 11 CFR 110.13 and 114.4(f).

Perot '96 contended-as it did in previous litigation-that the FEC lacked the authority to promulgate such regulations, and that the regulations constitute an illegal exception to the statutory ban on corporate contributions and expenditures under 2 U.S.C. §441b. While the law generally prohibits corporations from making contributions or expenditures in connection with federal elections, Commission regulations make an exception for bona fide nonprofit corporations to sponsor public debates among candidates, provided they follow rules for conducting such debates. 11 CFR 110.13 and 114.4(f). Perot '96 stated that, if the court finds that these regulations are unconstitutional, it should then declare that all expenditures made or contributions received by the CPD are unlawful under the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act).

In September 1996, Perot '96 filed an administrative complaint alleging that the CPD had violated Commission regulations in the formulation of its debate participant selection criteria. Specifically, Perot '96 charged that the CPD had used subjective criteria to select debate participants, contrary to the Commission's regulations that state that objective criteria must be used in the selection process. It stated that such criteria as polling results and the opinions of journalists were too subjective. Perot '96 also charged that the Democratic and Republican national committees had colluded with the CPD, ensuring that their nominees would be debate participants and violating the debate regulations' proscription against CPD's selecting debate participants solely by their party affiliations.

In February 1998, the Commission voted to reject the FEC General Counsel's recommendation that the CPD had violated Commission regulations on debates and that, as a result, the CPD had made prohibited corporate contributions to the Clinton/Gore and Dole/Kemp committees, that those committees had accepted prohibited contributions, and that the CPD was a political committee that had failed to register or report.

Prior to the Commission's vote, in October 1997, Perot '96 had filed another lawsuit, charging the FEC with delaying its investigation of the administrative complaint (Perot '96 v. FEC, 97-2554). After the FEC dismissed the administrative complaint in February, both Perot '96 and the Commission agreed to the dismissal of that case.

Source:   FEC RecordJune 1999 and June 1998