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RNC v. FEC (78-2783)


On June 16, 1978, the Republican National Committee (RNC) filed a suit against the Commission challenging the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act which affect Presidential candidates who accept public funds for the general election. (The RNC also requested injunctive relief and the convocation of a three-judge district court to hear the case, in accordance with 26 U.S.C. §9011(6).) The provisions which the RNC challenged stipulate that, in order to receive any federal funds, Presidential candidates of a major party must agree not to make qualified campaign expenses in excess of the amount of public funds they receive. Candidates must also certify that neither they nor any of their authorized committees will accept private contributions to defray qualified campaign expenses, except to the extent necessary to make up any deficiency in public funds. The RNC challenged these provisions on the following grounds:

  • The statutory scheme (described above) violates the First Amendment because it restricts the ability of candidates, their political parties, supporters and contributors to communicate their ideas.
  • The RNC claimed that, because of legal and practical considerations, the Republican candidate must accept public financing and thereby agree to comply with unconstitutional requirements.
  • The statutory scheme, according to the RNC, unconstitutionally discriminates against challenging candidates because incumbent Presidents have the advantage of free publicity and significant resources attached to the executive branch (e.g., speechwriters, jet planes, etc.).
  • According to the RNC, the statutory scheme discriminates against candidates not politically allied with labor organizations, in violation of the First and Fifth Amendments. Under 2 U.S.C. §441b, labor organizations may spend unlimited funds to communicate with their members on political matters. Candidates without such labor support are disadvantaged, alleged the RNC, because no other group is in a position to expend such large sums for communication with voters and any expenditures which candidates make to communicate directly with voters count against their expenditure limits.
  • The RNC argued that the statutory scheme is overbroad.
  • The RNC asserted that the statutory scheme violates the people's retained rights under the Ninth Amendment of the Constitution.

The FEC filed a motion to dismiss the suit, arguing that plaintiffs' constitutional objections had been rejected by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo. Secondly, the Commission argued, plaintiffs' description of how the statutory scheme of the Act would impact on the 1980 Presidential campaign is speculative and does not present a "ripe" controversy necessary to the exercise of judicial power. Further, the suit presents political questions not subject to judicial resolution.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied without prejudice the Commission's motion to dismiss on November 30, 1978, and granted the RNC's motion to convene a three-judge district court to hear the case. It also denied the motion of Common Cause to intervene, but permitted them to file briefs amicus curiae.

Supreme Court ruling

On April 14, 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously affirmed decisions by a three-judge court of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the en banc United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upholding the constitutionality of the Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act challenged in Republican National Committee v. FEC, originally filed on June 16, 1978. The Court also denied a petition for certiorari seeking review of the suit's dismissal by a single district judge.

Source:   FEC RecordJune 1980; February 1979. Republican National Committee v. FEC, 461 F. Supp. 570 (S.D.N.Y. 1978) (motion for the convening of a three-judge court granted D.C. Cir.), 487 F. Supp. 280 (S.D.N.Y. 1979) (three-judge court), 616 F.2d 1 (2d Cir.) (en banc), aff'd mem., 445 U.S. 955 (1980).