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DOE v. MARTIN

October 22, 1975

John DOE and 1974 Socialist Workers Municipal Campaign Committee, Plaintiffs,
v.
Robert MARTIN, Chairman, District of Columbia Board of Elections and Ethics, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEVENTHAL

This civil action challenges on constitutional grounds certain disclosure and filing requirements of the 1974 District of Columbia Campaign Finance Reform and Conflict of Interest Act, Pub.L. 93-376, 88 Stat. 446, recently enacted to regulate political campaign finance practices during local elections in the District of Columbia. The Act requires, among other things, public disclosure both of names of contributors and recipients of political expenditures made during a campaign for nomination or election to the office of Mayor, or member of the City Council, School Board or Neighborhood Advisory Council. This Act closely followed enactment of the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, Pub.L. 93-198, 87 Stat. 774, granting voting privileges to the citizens of the District of Columbia upon their acceptance of a proposed charter for the city's government.

 The District Court initially certified the questions presented as substantial and this three-judge court was convened. Defendants, the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics and its members, who are charged with enforcing the statute, now ask that the three-judge court be dissolved and have also moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground it fails to state a cause of action. Both these questions were heard by the three-judge court after submission of briefs.

 Plaintiffs sought an exemption for the Socialist Workers Party from the disclosure provisions of the Act. *fn1" The Board by advisory opinion found that it did not have the power to grant such an exemption. Plaintiffs contend that in the absence of such an exemption the Act must be declared unconstitutional. The gravamen of the complaint is that disclosure of the names of contributors contributing $50 or more and the disclosure of expenditures made to others assisting the Party will subject those whose names are required to be disclosed to harassment by the FBI, employers and others.

 We quickly dispose of the contention that a three-judge court is not required under Goosby v. Osser, 409 U.S. 512, 518, 93 S. Ct. 854, 35 L. Ed. 2d 36 (1972). The precise issues here raised have never been decided by the United States Supreme Court and there is clearly room for disagreement on the issue presented given the conflict between earlier cases upholding disclosure statutes and the subsequent development of the doctrine of associational privacy. Compare Burroughs and Cannon v. United States, 290 U.S. 534, 54 S. Ct. 287, 78 L. Ed. 484 (1934), and United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 74 S. Ct. 808, 98 L. Ed. 989 (1954), with N.A.A.C.P. v. Alabama ex rel. Patterson, 357 U.S. 449, 78 S. Ct. 1163, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1488 (1958), and Shelton v. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479, 81 S. Ct. 247, 5 L. Ed. 2d 231 (1960). See also Printing Industries of Gulf Coast v. Hill, 382 F. Supp. 801 (S.D.Texas), vacated and remanded for reconsideration as to mootness, 422 U.S. 937, 95 S. Ct. 2670, 45 L. Ed. 2d 664 (1975).

 I.

 Turning to the merits, the motion to dismiss must of course be considered on the assumption that the facts pled can be established and, in particular, that the names, addresses and places of employment of those assisting the Party, absent any strictures to the contrary, will be noted by the FBI and others and that inquiries or other detrimental social pressures will ensue affecting employment and privacy.

 Such harassment, if proved, would significantly infringe on plaintiff's associational rights. In effect, the contribution disclosure requirement allegedly exacts as the price for monetary support of a candidate a willingness to risk not only social disapproval but harassment encompassing economic reprisals, loss of employment, and physical coercion and violence. Because the harassment potential is not confined to any one identifiable agency or group, preventive litigative relief is not a realistic remedy. An indicator of the substantiality of plaintiffs' fears is provided by a ruling of the Minnesota Ethics Commission -- an agency empowered under the Minnesota Ethics in Government Act of 1974 *fn3" to grant exemptions from disclosing the identity of contributors to political associations where disclosure would expose individuals to "economic reprisals, loss of employment or threat of physical coercion." The Commission granted such an exemption to the Minnesota Socialist Workers 1974 Campaign Committee following hearings presenting episodes of the kind of harassment alleged in the complaint pending before us. *fn4"

  The Congressional enactment before the court includes a $10 contribution record-keeping provision and a $50 contribution disclosure requirement. *fn5" We find that the $10 contribution report requirements of the D.C. election law contains an implicit provision against disclosure except that which is inextricably and unavoidably involved in the processes of verification and audit. Giving those records a confidential status effectuates the Congressional audit provisions, while avoiding undue encroachment on associational interests through disclosure of even minimal financial support. See Buckley v. Valeo, supra note 2, 519 F.2d at 864-65.

 II.

 In considering the contention that harassment resulting from contribution disclosure would unconstitutionally infringe on plaintiff's associational rights, we start from two basic postulates.

 First. We entertain no doubt that Congress can put a limit on the amount of contributions to political parties and can require disclosure of substantial contributions even though under the legal maximum. Congress can properly achieve its purposes of limiting attempts to buy "influence" with elected candidates and of enhancing public perception of the legitimacy of the election process by requiring that "significant" party candidates seeking to influence public policy accept the publicity attendant to public disclosure of this active role. See Buckley v. Valeo, supra note 2, at 833-44.

 In general, there is a rational nexus between Congress' objective of eliminating secrecy in substantial political contributions and the disclosure technique of regulation. Burroughs and Cannon v. United States, 290 U.S. 534, 54 S. Ct. 287, 78 L. Ed. 484 (1934); United States v. Harriss, 347 U.S. 612, 74 S. Ct. 808, 98 L. Ed. 989 (1954); Buckley v. Valeo, supra note 2; Stoner v. Fortson, 379 F. Supp. 704 (N.D.Ga. 1974, 3-judge court). Absent allegations of harassment, there is also a rational basis for applying the disclosure regulatory device to minority parties. The problem of "undue influence" of monied and special interests, and their pursuit of candidates who will have the power of government to help their friends and hinder the enemies, is largely the problem of contributions to majority parties. But minority parties also influence election outcomes. They divert votes from one or another better supported candidates, occasionally forge ahead to win races, and can be used as stalking horses (particularly in local elections). There is also the problem of appearances -- the possibility of citizen anxiety stemming from keeping part of the process secret, engendering the suspicion that what is not accounted for has some ...


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