On May 11, 2021, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part the judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in Campaign Legal Center v. FEC (18-0053 / 20-5159).
According to its court complaint, Campaign Legal Center (the plaintiff) and an individual, Catherine Hinckley Kelley, filed an administrative complaint on November 1, 2016, and a supplemental administrative complaint on December 20, 2016, alleging that GEO Corrections Holdings, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of a federal contractor, violated the Federal Election Campaign Act’s (FECA) prohibition on contributions by federal government contractors by contributing a total of $225,000 to Rebuilding America Now, a nonconnected independent expenditure-only committee (Super PAC) in 2016. On January 10, 2018, the plaintiff filed suit against the FEC alleging that the Commission had failed to act on the administrative complaint and that the failure to act on the complaint was contrary to both the FECA and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). On May 26, 2020, the district court dismissed both counts. The district court found that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue under the FECA and that the plaintiff had no claim under the APA as the FECA provides the exclusive mechanism for judicial review of administrative complaints under the statute.
The plaintiff appealed the ruling that they lacked standing to sue under the FECA, arguing that the statute confers a legally enforceable substantive right to timely action on their administrative complaint and that the Commission’s failure to act on the complaint creates an injury sufficient to establish standing. The appeals court rejected this argument, finding that the statute is procedural and noting Supreme Court precedent that the deprivation of a procedural right alone is insufficient to establish standing. The appeals court explained that the plaintiff must identify a concrete interest that is harmed by the Commission’s alleged failure to act on their administrative complaint. The mere allegation that the Commission failed to process an administrative complaint in accordance with law is not enough to establish that the plaintiff had in fact been injured.
The plaintiff also argued that they have suffered an “informational injury” as the Commission’s alleged failure to act on their complaint has deprived them of disclosure information that they are entitled to under the FECA. The appeals court found that the plaintiff had forfeited this argument as it was not raised in either their administrative complaint or in the district court proceedings.
Having determined that the district court was correct in finding that the plaintiff lacked standing to sue under the FECA, the appeals court affirmed that portion of the district court’s decision.
Although the plaintiff did not appeal the district court’s ruling on their APA count, the appeals court considered the district court’s judgment on the merits that the FECA provides the exclusive mechanism for judicial review of administrative complaints under the FECA. The appeals court found instead that the plaintiff lacked standing under the APA and vacated the district court’s judgment, remanding this count to the lower court with instructions to dismiss it for lack of standing.
- Campaign Legal Center v. FEC (18-0053 / 20-5159) litigation page