In a complaint dated December 15, 2017, John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 (“Plaintiffs”) filed suit against the FEC in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the FEC from releasing their identities in an enforcement matter.
The Federal Election Campaign Act (the Act) and FEC regulations require that the Commission make public any conciliation agreement signed by the Commission and a respondent in an enforcement matter. Under 11 CFR 111.20(a) and (b), “[i]f the Commission makes a finding of no reason to believe or no probable cause to believe or otherwise terminates its proceedings, it shall make public such action and the basis therefor no later than thirty (30) days from the date on which the required notifications are sent to complainant and respondent. If a conciliation agreement is finalized, the Commission shall make public such conciliation agreement forthwith.”
In February 2015, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and Anne Weismann filed an administrative complaint alleging that an “unknown respondent” made a contribution to Now or Never PAC that violated the Act’s prohibition on contributions in the name of another. The Commission’s investigation identified Government Integrity LLC (GI LLC) as an “unknown respondent.” The investigation led the FEC’s Office of General Counsel to conclude that John Doe 2 had a relationship with GI LLC and that John Doe 2 provided the funds for the contribution at issue. The Commission subpoenaed Plaintiffs but received no response. In September 2017, the FEC’s Office of General Counsel recommended that the Commission find reason to believe that Plaintiffs violated the Act’s prohibition on contributions in the name of another and authorize commencement of a civil suit to enforce the subpoena. Two Commissioners approved the recommendations and three opposed. All five Commissioners then approved taking no action for an interim period of time.
In October 2017, the Commission approved a conciliation agreement with GI LLC, American Conservative Union, Now or Never PAC and James Thomas, Now or Never PAC’s treasurer. The Commission notified the parties that the matter was closed and that documents related to the case would be placed on the public record under 52 U.S.C. § 30109(a)(4)(B) and 11 CFR 111.20(a).
Though not formally designated by the Commission as respondents in the matter, John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 are identified in the FEC’s investigation and deliberations on the administrative complaint.
Plaintiffs filed a complaint dated December 15, 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. They challenge the Commission’s planned release of their identities as arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion, and contrary to law.
Plaintiffs claim that, since they were not respondents in the Commission’s investigation or parties to the conciliation agreement, their identities should not be released as part of the administrative record. They argue that release of their identities is contrary to law, an invasion of privacy and could be read to implicate them in illegal conduct. They also allege that a release would have a chilling effect on their speech.
Plaintiffs seek a preliminary and permanent injunction against the Commission from any release of their identities.