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Public Citizen, Inc. v. FEC


On April 24, 2009, Public Citizen, Inc., and two of its employees, Craig Holman and Taylor Lincoln (the plaintiffs), filed suit against the FEC in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs’ suit alleges that the FEC acted "contrary to law" when it dismissed their administrative complaint. That complaint alleged that another organization, Americans for Job Security (AJS), had unlawfully failed to register with the FEC as a political committee and had violated other legal requirements of the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act).


According to the lawsuit, Public Citizen, Inc. is a nonprofit membership organization headquartered in Washington, DC, that advocates the interests of consumers and members of the public before Congress, administrative agencies and the courts on a number of issues. The complaint alleges that AJS is a tax exempt organization under section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code, which applies to "business leagues," that is not registered as a political committee with the FEC. Under the Act and Supreme Court precedent, organizations whose "major purpose" is the nomination or election of federal candidates and that receive contributions or make expenditures in excess of $1,000 in a calendar year must register as political committees with the FEC. Political committees are subject to a $5,000 per calendar year contribution limit from individuals and may not receive contributions from corporations or labor organizations.

On April 11, 2007, the plaintiffs submitted an administrative complaint to the Commission asking the Commission to take action against AJS for failing to register as a political committee, failing to report contributions and expenditures, accepting contributions in excess of $5,000 from individuals and accepting contributions from corporations. The administrative complaint also claimed that the major purpose of AJS was supporting or opposing candidates for federal office, which thus subjected it to the registration and reporting requirements of the Act.

The Commission was equally divided on whether to find reason to believe that AJS had violated the Act and on February 25, 2009, voted to dismiss the complaint and to take no further action on the matter.


The plaintiffs allege that the Commission acted "contrary to law" in its dismissal of the administrative complaint against AJS. Under 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8), dismissal of such a complaint is contrary to law if it rests on an impermissible interpretation of the Act or its implementing regulations or if it is otherwise arbitrary and capricious or an abuse of discretion. The plaintiffs seek an order declaring that dismissal of their administrative complaint against AJS is contrary to law, an order directing the FEC to conform to the court’s declaration within 30 days and all other proper relief.

Source: FEC RecordJune 2009