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Stevens v. FEC (02C3291)


On May 7, 2002, William J. Stevens and the Libertarian Party of Illinois (the Party) filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, asking the court to set aside or modify the Commission's final determination that the Party, and its former treasurer Mr. Stevens, failed to file a required disclosure report. The plaintiffs also asked the court to enjoin the Commission from enforcing a civil money penalty it assessed under the administrative fine regulations.

On June 5, 2003, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the Commission's motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. The complaint had challenged the Commission's final determination that the Libertarian Party of Illinois (LPI) and its former treasurer William J. Stevens had failed to file timely the committee's 2001 mid-year report and the assessment of civil penalty. 2 U.S.C. §434(a).

Court complaint

According to the complaint, in March 2002 the Commission made a final determination that Mr. Stevens and the Party had violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) by failing to file a 2001 Mid-Year Report. 2 U.S.C. §434(a). The Commission also assessed a $7,875 civil money penalty under its Administrative Fine program based, according to the complaint, on "an assumed level of activity in the amount of $108,755." Under the Commission's Administrative Fine regulations, penalties for non-filed reports are determined by the estimated level of activity on the report and any prior violations under the administrative fine regulations. 11 CFR 111.43.

Mr. Stevens and the Party claim that, because they did not raise any federal campaign funds during the reporting period in question and allocated only $14,552.64 as shared federal/nonfederal activity, they were not involved in any substantial activity that fell within the Commission's jurisdiction. The plaintiffs allege that in determining the penalty, the Commission overestimated the amount of activity on the non-filed report by calculating the penalty based on the Party's federal and nonfederal activity. The complaint also claims that the Commission counted the same funds twice by determining the penalty according to both receipts and disbursements.

The plaintiffs ask the court to declare that "the application of the Federal Election Campaign Act is limited to federal election campaigns and cannot be applied to nor include non-federal funds nor nonfederal activities." They ask the court to:

  • Find that the plaintiffs are not in violation of 2 U.S.C. §434(a) and declare the civil money penalty null and void;
  • Enjoin the Commission from enforcing the civil money penalty; and
  • Enter an order and judgment setting aside the Commission's final determination or modifying it to limit its application to federal funds and activities only.

Court decision

The court found that the plaintiffs' claims were barred by the statute of limitations because they had not appealed the Commission's determination with 30-day time period allotted by the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act). 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(4)(C)(iii). The court also denied the plaintiffs' request to amend their complaint. Plaintiffs had asked to add 2 U.S.C. §437h as a basis for jurisdiction, in order to challenge whether the Commission has jurisdiction over the types of funds disclosed in the LPI's reports. The plaintiffs argued that the FEC required them to report local and state activity on the mid-year report. The court stated that the mid-year appeared only to require the LPI to report federal contributions and disbursements, with the exception of requiring LPI to report shared federal/nonfederal operating expenditures. The court explained that in Buckley v. Valeo the Supreme Court had already found the compelled disclosure of federal campaign finance activity to be constitutional. The court further reasoned that the plaintiffs wanted to contest the activity on their report that the Commission used to determine the civil penalty, they should have made this challenge through the Commission's administrative process.

The court granted the Commission's motion to dismiss and denied the plaintiffs' cross-motion for summary judgment.

Source:   FEC RecordAugust 2003; October 2002