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Stockman v. FEC


In August 1996, a U.S. District Court in Texas dismissed Congressman Stephen E. Stockman's claim that the FEC had unreasonably delayed its investigation into his 1994 campaign. The court said: "There is no evidence showing that the time spent to investigate this matter is a product of anything other than the excessive demands on a strapped federal agency."

In an earlier decision, the court dismissed the claim that the FEC had improperly leaked information about the matter to the press.

On March 27, 1998, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sustained the district court's ruling in this case for the FEC, but it based the dismissal on lack of jurisdiction rather than on the merits.


Former Congressman Stephen E. Stockman was a respondent in an administrative complaint the FEC received concerning a newspaper that was published at Mr. Stockman's residence and campaign headquarters during the 1994 primary election season. In February 1996, Mr. Stockman asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division, to direct the FEC to dismiss the administrative complaint because, among other reasons, the FEC allegedly had unreasonably delayed its investigation and FEC personnel allegedly had leaked information about the investigation to the press, in violation of statutory and regulatory confidentiality requirements.

District court decisions

In decisions rendered in June and August 1996, the district court rejected Mr. Stockman's arguments. While the district court found that it had jurisdiction over the delay claim, it ruled that the delay in the investigation was not unreasonable in light of the FEC's work load and lack of resources. The district court dismissed Mr. Stockman's breach-of-confidentiality claim for lack of jurisdiction because Mr. Stockman had failed to follow FEC procedures for resolving such a claim. In the alternative, the court found that there was no factual basis for Mr. Stockman's allegations of press leaks by the FEC. Mr. Stockman then appealed the case.

Appeals court decision

The appellate court, citing 2 U.S.C. §437g(a)(8), concluded that the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) does not create a cause of action for a delay claim by an administrative respondent (as opposed to the person who files the complaint). Section 437g(a)(8), the court pointed out, states that only an administrative complainant who is aggrieved by the FEC's failure to act may petition for judicial relief, and then only in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The court further held that Mr. Stockman's delay claim could not be based on the Administrative Procedure Act, which does not apply where the underlying statute precludes judicial review. The court found that the Act precludes judicial review of delay claims by plaintiffs, like Mr. Stockman, who were not administrative complainants and did not file suit in the District of Columbia. The district court therefore lacked jurisdiction, the court of appeals held, over Mr. Stockman's delay claim.

Source:   FEC RecordMay 1998; October 1996. Stockman v. FEC, 944 F. Supp. 518 (E.D. Tex. Aug. 27, 1996), aff'd as modified, 138 F.3d 144 (5th Cir. Mar. 27, 1998).