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COMMON CAUSE v. FEC

April 30, 1980

COMMON CAUSE et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

MEMORANDUM OPINION

 In June, 1978, Common Cause asserted in an administrative complaint that AMPAC and the state medical PACs constituted a single political committee as defined by the FECA, 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(5), *fn4" and therefore were limited to a total contribution of $ 5000 per candidate for federal elective office in each election cycle. The complaint listed numerous instances in the 1976 congressional election where the combined contributions of AMPAC and a state PAC to an individual candidate or committee exceeded the $ 5000 limit. In November, 1978, Common Cause brought this action requesting the Court to enter a judgment declaring that the Commission's failure to act on its complaint was contrary to law and to issue an injunction directing the Commission to proceed in conformity with the Court's declaration within 30 days.

 Following several years of investigation, the Commission in recent months has executed conciliation agreements *fn5" with AMPAC and most of the state medical PACs named in the 1978 administrative complaint, prohibiting the combined contributions complained of by Common Cause.

 Before the Court at this time are cross motions for summary judgment. When Common Cause sought summary judgment, the Commission had entered conciliation agreements only with AMPAC and several state PACs named in the June, 1978 complaint. Accordingly, Common Cause argued that the relief provided by those agreements was inadequate and that in any event it came too late. The additional agreements reached by the Commission since the filing of Common Cause's motion alter the facts considerably and compel a different conclusion.

 For the reasons set forth the Court concludes that the Commission's action with regard to those situations in which it has entered conciliation agreements is not contrary to law. The Court also concludes that the Commission's failure to take final action with respect to the remaining state PACs named by Common Cause is not unlawful. If required statutory action is not pursued within the prescribed time, Common Cause may bring suit in its own name to remedy the violations alleged.

 Background

 In its June, 1978 complaint the plaintiffs alleged forty-eight contribution violations by AMPAC and some twenty state PACs. In an earlier administrative complaint of October, 1976, Common Cause alleged twenty-one similar violations for a total of sixty-nine violations in twenty-four states. *fn6" All of the violations save one involved a contribution by AMPAC and a single state PAC to a congressional candidate or his political committee. The exception was the allegation in the June, 1978 complaint that AMPAC and two state committees, the Texas PAC and the Florida PAC, had contributed $ 5000, $ 5000 and $ 1000 respectively to the congressional candidacy of Ron Paul of Texas.

 In February, 1977, between the filing of Common Cause's two administrative complaints, the Commission expanded its investigation to all state medical associations and PACs while focusing on seven states where there was relatively large financial activity by the PACs in concert with AMPAC. In addition to Common Cause's initial 1976 complaint, four other complaints from different sources had been filed by February, 1977, all alleging contribution violations by AMPAC and the state political committees. The Commission investigation was well underway when Common Cause filed its second complaint in June, 1978. Five of the state PACs cited by Common Cause those of Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas were among the seven targeted by the Commission.

 During the course of its investigation, the Commission mailed informal requests for information to each respondent, conducted over 60 depositions, and collected approximately 60,000 pages of documents. In the process, the Commission issued orders or subpoenas for relevant documents. Deposition of witnesses for the AMA, AMPAC, each of the seven targeted state PACs and one of the targeted state associations were also scheduled. The Commission's efforts were resisted and it was in turn compelled to file subpoena enforcement actions in the appropriate federal district court on at least nine separate occasions. By the end of 1978, most of the subpoena enforcement actions were resolved.

 In addition, the Commission issued numerous subpoenas which did not require judicial enforcement. Subsequent to the filing of Common Cause's June, 1978 complaint, subpoenas were issued to the AMA and AMPAC for additional document production and to twenty-two state PACs and seventeen state medical societies for document production.

 At a July, 1979, pretrial conference, in response to the Court's expression of concern at the slowness of the administrative proceeding, Commission counsel stated that the investigation was entering the final stages. In August, the General Counsel was to present general findings to the Commission in the form of an "overview" report and shortly thereafter recommendations as to whether or not there was reasonable cause to believe that violations of FECA had occurred. *fn7"

 In light of these representations, the Court received and reviewed in camera the General Counsel's overview report, his recommendations, and the final actions taken by the Commission. Certain interim reports previously submitted to the Commission were also made available. The plaintiffs were given access to these materials subject to two protective orders. *fn8"

 In the fall of 1979, the Commission found reasonable cause to believe that the reporting requirements and contributions limits of the Act had been violated. It then entered separate conciliation agreements with AMPAC and five of the targeted state PACs. Three of the five state PACs were among the twenty-four cited in Common Cause's two administrative complaints. The Commission has since executed similar agreements with eleven additional state PACs named in the Common Cause ...


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