Potential violations may be brought to the Commission's attention through the complaint process. This process enables anyone to file a sworn complaint alleging violations and explaining the basis for the allegations. Other government agencies may refer possible violations and any entity that believes it has committed a violation may file a self-reported complaint (called "sua sponte" submissions) to the Commission. The Commission's complaint brochure outlines the stages of the complaint process.
- Resolving complaints: The Commission reviews each complaint on a case-by-case basis. If the Commission finds that a violation occurred, possible outcomes can range from a letter reiterating compliance obligations to a conciliation agreement, which may include a monetary civil penalty.
- Complaint outcomes: The Commission reviews each complaint on a case-by-case basis. If the Commission finds that a violation occurred, possible outcomes can range from a letter reiterating compliance obligations to a conciliation agreement, which may include a monetary civil penalty.
- Checking the status of complaints: To protect the interests of those involved in a complaint, the law requires that any Commission action on a MUR be kept strictly confidential until the case is resolved. These provisions do not, however, prevent a complainant or respondent from disclosing the substance of the complaint itself, or the response to that complaint, or from engaging in conduct that leads to the publication of information contained in the complaint.
The Press Office cannot provide information about pending complaints other than confirming that a complaint has been received. In order to get such confirmation, reporters must supply the names of both respondents and complainants.
Matters under review (MURs)
A MUR is a standard enforcement case. By law, FEC must attempt to resolve MURs through a confidential investigative process that culminates in a conciliation agreement with the respondent(s). Should that process fail, both the Commission and the respondent(s) have the option to pursue the matter in court.
A vote of at least four Commissioners is needed at every stage, including whether to:
- Find reason to believe and initiate an investigation,
- Find probable cause that a violation has occurred or is about to occur,
- Settle a matter or
- Authorize filing a lawsuit.
If there are not four votes at any stage, the Commission will not proceed to the next step of the process.
Time to close MURs
The Commission does not have a statutory deadline for completing enforcement matters. Each complaint is reviewed on a case-by-case basis, and therefore, the length of every case will vary. For context, page 23 of the Commission’s Performance and Accountability Report states, "In FY 2012, the Commission closed 77 enforcement cases in an average of 14.2 months, which included $603,200 in negotiated civil penalties."
The U.S. Code limits the Commission’s ability to seek civil penalties in federal district court to within a five-year statute of limitations period (measured from the time of the violation).
Redacted files associated with closed enforcement matters are published on the FEC website within 30 days after the parties involved have been notified that the matter has been closed. MUR and ADR documents are in the Enforcement Query System on FEC.gov.
Alternative Dispute Resolution Program (ADR program)
The ADR Program was implemented in 2002 (after a pilot program begun in 2000) to facilitate settlements outside of the traditional enforcement or litigation processes. The ADR Program's primary objective is quicker resolution of enforcement matters that require fewer resources. A case is closed when the Commission votes on the recommendation made by the Commission's ADR Office as to what final action should be taken. During FY 2012, the Commission completed 41 ADR cases, which included $140,126 in negotiated civil penalties. The Commission's performance measure for ADR is to close 75 percent of cases within 155 days of a case being assigned.