Reagan-Bush Committee v. FEC
On December 10, 1981, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit denied an injunction barring the FEC from releasing an interim audit report of the Reagan-Bush Committee's (the Committee's) publicly funded general election campaign. The Committee had sought the injunction pending its appeal of an earlier decision by the district court, which had also denied its motion for an injunction (Reagan-Bush Committee v. FEC; Civil Action No. 81-1893). The appeals court found no merit in the Committee's argument that release of the interim audit report would cause the Committee "irreparable harm," especially "in the absence of clear Congressional intent that interim audit reports are not to be made public." Moreover, the court held that appellant's motion was "particularly inappropriate in the light of the well established policy that courts should not interfere in an interim agency action when Congress has enacted special statutory procedures for review of the final result."
In filing its suit with the district court on August 10, 1981, the Committee had asked the court to issue an order:
- Preliminarily enjoining the FEC from releasing an interim audit report dealing with the Committee's campaign; and
- Requiring disclosure of certain materials under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
The plaintiff had also asked the court to enjoin the FEC from taking any further action with respect to the Committee's "alleged violations" of the Act or repayments of public funds recommended by the FEC, until the Commission:
- Made available all the documents requested by the Committee under the FOIA;
- Provided the Committee with a further opportunity to respond to the alleged violations and recommended repayments; and
- Conducted a hearing on these disputed matters.
District court ruling
In granting the FEC's motion for summary judgment in the suit, the district court ruled that the interim audit report was not a final FEC determination on repayments and that the "FEC audit process leading to repayment determinations is replete with procedural protections" that would allow the Committee to dispute any FEC audit findings before the Commission made a final repayment determination. Moreover, the court pointed out that repayment determinations and the procedure for enforcing violations of the election law are treated as two different functions under the statutory scheme and by the FEC in practice. The court concluded, therefore, that the Committee's "fears of disclosure of information relating to alleged violations are groundless...."
Plaintiff further claimed that public disclosure of the interim audit report was barred by 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(12). The court found, however, that this provision applied only to enforcement proceedings initiated under the Act (i.e., investigations into alleged violations of the Act); separate provisions spelled out procedures for conducting audits and making repayment determinations with regard to publicly funded Presidential candidates. (See 26 U.S.C. §9007(a) and (b).)
Refuting plaintiff's claim that the Presidential audit information could be disclosed only to Congress, the district court affirmed the FEC's argument that such reports must be made public by law. 26 U.S.C. §§9007 and 9009(a). "The public has a right to know, and promptly, how its monies are spent by Presidential campaign committees." Moreover, the court affirmed the FEC's position that the audit report was subject to disclosure under the FOIA.
The district court also dismissed without prejudice plaintiff's petition for a court order requiring the FEC to disclose certain information the Committee had requested under the FOIA. The court found that the Committee had "never specified to the court which documents should be disclosed" and had "not challenged the FEC's assertion" that the FEC had substantially complied with the Committee's requests for information available under the FOIA.
The Commission released the final audit report for the Reagan-Bush campaign on December 11, 1981.
Source: FEC Record — February 1982. Reagan-Bush Committee v. FEC, 525 F. Supp. 1330 (D.D.C. 1981).