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Socialist Workers Party v. FEC



On January 2, 1979, a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approved a consent decree in a suit by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) against the FEC and Common Cause (which had intervened as co-defendant). In the consent decree the three parties agreed that, for a limited time, SWP would not be required to comply with certain disclosure provisions of the Act. Until the close of the FEC's reporting period for 1984, SWP will not be required to report the names, addresses and occupations of individuals who contributed $100 or more to SWP, or to identify recipients of SWP expenditures.

SWP had filed suit against the Commission in July 1976, alleging that specific sections of the Act deprived SWP and its supporters of certain First Amendment rights. The decree noted that SWP and those connected with it "had been subjected to systematic harassment." Citing the standard for the potential unconstitutional application of the disclosure provisions set forth in a 1976 Supreme Court decision (Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S.(1), the decree states that SWP had demonstrated at least "a reasonable probability that the compelled disclosure" of names of its contributors and recipients of its expenditures would continue to "subject them to threats, harassment, or reprisals from either government officials or private parties." (Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. at 74). Consequently, the defendants concurred, without necessarily agreeing to all the facts presented, that SWP should not constitutionally be compelled to comply with the reporting requirements of the Act which require identification of individuals.

The decree also provided that:

  • SWP must file all reports required by the Act, except that contributors and recipients of expenditures need not be identified.
  • SWP must maintain all records required by the Act so that all information normally required to be reported is available. If the FEC has reason to believe that SWP has violated any provision of the Act other than the disclosure requirements and that the nondisclosed information is needed to investigate the suspected violation the FEC may apply to the court for an order to require SWP to produce the information.
  • In addition to the notice required on all literature and advertisements under 2 U.S.C. §435(b), SWP may add the following: "A Federal court ruling allows us not to disclose the names of contributors in order to protect their First Amendment rights."

The procedural disagreement between defendants and plaintiff, focusing on the duration of the decree and the mechanism by which it could be extended, was resolved so that:

  • The provisions of the decree will remain in force until the end of the reporting period for 1984.
  • Six months prior to that date, SWP can file for an extension.
  • If SWP does request an extension, the FEC must respond to the request three months prior to the expiration date of the current decree.

Source: FEC RecordMarch 1979. Socialist Workers 1974 National Campaign Committee v. FEC, 2 Fed. Elec. Camp. Fin. Guide (CCH) ¶9068 (D.D.C. 1979).