On August 20, 2014, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and its executive director, Melanie Sloan, filed suit against the FEC in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, challenging the Commission’s dismissal of their administrative complaints against the American Action Network (AAN) and Americans for Job Security (AJS). The plaintiffs allege that the Commission’s dismissal was “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.” The plaintiffs further allege that the Commission has adopted a “de facto regulation … without notice” interpreting the “‘major purpose’ test” for political committee status “as limited to a consideration of express advocacy (or its functional equivalent) only, conducted during an ill-defined and ever-changing period of time.”
In 2012, CREW and Melanie Sloan filed complaints with the FEC against AJS (MUR 6538) and AAN (MUR 6589) alleging that the major purpose of the groups was the nomination or election of federal candidates. Based on that—and the amounts each group had spent on federal elections—CREW believed that AJS and AAN had violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and Commission regulations requiring them to register as political committees and to file reports disclosing their receipts and disbursements. 2 U.S.C. §§433(a) and 434(a)(4); 11 CFR 102.1(d) and 104.1(a).
The Commission, by a vote of three to three, did not find reason to believe that either AJS or AAN had violated the Act, and closed both cases.
The Act and Commission regulations generally define the term "political committee” to include any group that raises or spends more than $1,000 during a calendar year for the purpose of influencing federal elections. 2 U.S.C. §431(4)(A); 11 CFR 100.5(a). In its landmark Buckley v. Valeo decision, the Supreme Court wrote that this definition need only include organizations whose “major purpose . . . is the nomination or election of a candidate.” 424 U.S. 1, 79.
The plaintiffs ask the court to declare the FEC’s dismissal of their administrative complaints and its reliance on an alleged “de facto regulation” regarding major purpose to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law. They ask the court to enjoin the FEC from relying on its purported interpretation of the major purpose test and to order the Commission to conform to the court’s declaration within 30 days.