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Kean for Congress Committee v. Federal Election Commission

January 25, 2005

KEAN FOR CONGRESS COMMITTEE PLAINTIFF,
v.
FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Kean for Congress Committee ("plaintiff" or "Kean Committee") brings this action against defendant Federal Election Commission ("defendant" or "FEC") seeking judicial review of the dismissal by FEC of an administrative complaint filed by Kean Committee. See Am. Compl. ¶ 1. Kean Committee's administrative complaint concerned political advertisements made against Thomas H. Kean, Jr., a candidate in 2000 for the New Jersey Seventh Congressional District. See id. ¶ 2. Currently before the Court is defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff Kean Committee lacks standing to challenge the FEC's decision to dismiss Kean Committee's administrative complaint.

BACKGROUND

The facts in this Background Section are drawn from plaintiff's Amended Complaint, the record before the Court on defendant's motion, and those portions of defendant's Statement of Material Facts As To Which There Is No Genuine Issue ("Pl. Response to Def. Statement") that are uncontradicted and well supported by the record. Because defendant's motion to dismiss challenges the jurisdiction of this Court to hear plaintiff's action, the Court is permitted to examine materials outside the pleadings as it deems appropriate. See Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).

A. Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, as amended ("the Act" or"FECA"), codified at 2 U.S.C. §§ 431-455, was designed to remedy any actual or perceived corruption within the political process. See FEC v. Akins, 524 U.S. 11, 14 (1998). The FECA accomplishes this goal,*fn1 in part, by imposing limits upon the amounts that individuals, corporations, "political committees" and political parties can contribute to federal candidates. See 2 U.S.C. §§ 441a(a), 441a(b), 441b. The act also prohibits contributions or expenditures by corporations in federal elections. See 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a).

In addition to the contribution restrictions and limitations, the FECA also imposes extensive record keeping and disclosure requirements upon a variety of actors in the political process, including requirements upon groups that fall within the definition of"political committees." 2 U.S.C. §§ 432-434. Under FECA,"political committees" is broadly defined as"any committee, club, association or other group of persons which receives" more than $1000 in "contributions" or which makes over $1,000 in"expenditures" in any given year. See 2 U.S.C. § 431(4)(A). Political committees are required to register with the FEC, appoint a treasurer, maintain names and addresses of contributors, track expenditures and file FEC reports that list donors giving more than $200 per year, contributions, expenditures, and any other disbursements regardless of purpose. See 2 U.S.C. §§ 432-434.

B. FEC Complaint Process

The FECA also provides the FEC, an independent agency of the United States government, with exclusive jurisdiction over enforcing its provisions. See 2 U.S.C. §§ 437c(b)(1), 437d(e) and 437g. The FEC is authorized to institute investigations of possible violations of FECA. 2 U.S.C. §§ 427g(a)(1) and (2). The FECA also permits"any person" to file a signed, sworn administrative complaint with the FEC alleging a violation of FECA, see 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(1), and proscribes certain steps that must be taken in processing an administrative complaint.

The FEC first reviews the complaint and any responses to it. Then, usually following a recommendation from the General Counsel of the FEC, the Commission votes whether there is "reason to believe" that a violation of FECA has occurred. See 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(2). If four of the six members of the Commission vote to find a "reason to believe," then the FEC will conduct an investigation. Id. After the investigation is completed, the six members of the Commission again vote, but this time to determine whether there is "probable cause" to believe a violation of FECA has occurred. See 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(4)(A)(I). Again, if at least four of the six members vote to find probable cause, the FEC will attempt to reach a conciliation agreement with the alleged violator. Id. If no conciliation agreement can be reached, the six member Commission can vote to institute a de novo civil enforcement action. See 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(6)(A).

If, during any of the numerous votes by the six member Commission, less than four members vote affirmatively in favor of taking action upon the complaint, then the complaint is dismissed. A complainant whose complaint fails to pass this gauntlet of Commission votes may then file a petition for review in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. See 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(8)(A).

C. Kean Committee

In December 1999, the Kean Committee was designated by Thomas H. Kean, Jr., as his principal campaign committee for the 2000 election for the United States House of Representatives from New Jersey's Seventh Congressional District. See Def. Statement ¶ 1. In the same month, the Kean Committee registered with the FEC as Mr. Kean's principal campaign committee, and was given an FEC identification number. Id. ¶ 2.

In or around May 2000, the Council for Responsible Government ("CRG") began running advertisements against Mr. Kean. See Am. Compl. ¶ 13. In one advertisement of two pages, the following statement was superimposed against a photograph of Mr. Kean:

TOM KEAN, JR.

No experience. Hasn't lived in New Jersey for 10 years.

It takes more than a name to get things done.

Id. ¶ 14. The second page of the advertisement included the following statement:

NEVER

Never worked in New Jersey. Never ran for office. Never held a job in the private sector. Never paid New Jersey property taxes. Tom Kean Jr. may be a nice young man and you may have liked his dad a lot - but he needs more experience dealing with local issues and concerns. For the last 5 years he has lived in Boston while attending college. Before that, he lived in Washington. New Jersey faces some tough issues. We can't afford on-the-job training. Tell Tom Kean Jr.... New Jersey needs New Jersey leaders.

Id.

The second advertisement run by the CRG against Mr. Kean contained a similar statement. Id. ΒΆ 15. It also included the following photographs: former basketball player Larry Bird, Senator Ted Kennedy, a statue of a Revolutionary War"Minuteman" and Mr. Kean. Id. Before those photographs was the following ...


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