Free speech group sues FEC for failure to disclose

June 9, 2014   •  By Joe Trotter
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Alexandria, Va. –– The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) today filed a lawsuit against the Federal Election Commission (FEC) seeking a controversial agency document denied to CCP despite a Freedom of Information Act request. That document relates to a complaint against Crossroads GPS that was dismissed by the FEC last December.

“The FEC ignored the law and its own policies and regulations that require publication of the document,” said CCP president David Keating.  “Ironically, the three Democratic commissioners who denied release of the document claim to favor disclosure.”

Typically, when the FEC’s General Counsel reviews a complaint alleging a campaign finance law violation, a First General Counsel’s Report is distributed to the Commission. As a matter of longstanding policy reflected in federal regulations requiring the FEC to “make the fullest possible disclosure of records to the public,” the FEC makes First General Counsel’s Reports public.

The FEC refused to follow this practice after the Commission determined that a § 501(c)(4) organization, Crossroads GPS, had not run afoul of federal campaign finance rules. According to the three Republican FEC commissioners, there were two versions of the First General Counsel’s Report. They sought to disclose the first version by attaching it to their statement of reasons for their vote on the complaint.  The attached 75-page document contained only one word: “redacted.”  CCP then filed a FOIA request for the report, which was denied.  CCP filed an appeal with the FEC, which the Commission denied on May 28.

The two documents have unknown differences in the legal test used by the FEC’s General Counsel to determine if an organization must register as a political committee. By not releasing the report, the FEC hid this possible change from organizations seeking to comply with the FEC’s interpretation of federal law.

“The FEC has a longstanding policy of approving FOIA requests for First General Counsel’s Reports that are not already published,” said Legal Director Allen Dickerson. “The General Counsel’s office has the ability to initiate investigations and audits, and so its view of the law is naturally of great importance to the regulated community. We are disappointed that the FEC disregarded its previous policy and its own regulations in denying our FOIA request, forcing CCP to file this lawsuit.”

The case was filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  The lawsuit asks the Court to order release of the document and for reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs.

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.  A copy of the original FOIA request can be found here.

The Center for Competitive Politics promotes and defends the First Amendment’s protection of the political rights of speech, assembly, and petition. It is the nation’s largest organization dedicated solely to protecting First Amendment political rights.

Joe Trotter

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