FEC v. NCPAC
470 U.S. 480 (1985)

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U.S. Supreme Court

FEC v. NCPAC, 470 U.S. 480 (1985)

Federal Election Commission v. National Conservative

Political Action Committee

No. 83-1032

Argued November 28, 1984

Decided March 18, 1985*

470 U.S. 480

Syllabus

The Presidential Election Campaign Fund Act (Fund Act) offers the Presidential candidates of major political parties the option of receiving public financing for their general election campaigns. If the candidate elects public financing, the Act, in 26 U.S.C. § 9012(f), makes it a criminal offense for an independent "political committee" to expend more than $1,000 to further that candidate's election. Believing that § 9012(f) would prohibit appellee independent political committees' intended substantial expenditures in support of President Reagan's reelection in 1984, appellant Democratic Party and appellant Democratic National Committee (Democrats) filed an action in Federal District Court against appellees, seeking a declaration that § 9012(f) is constitutional. Appellant Federal Election Commission (FEC) brought a separate action against the same defendants seeking the same relief, and the two actions were consolidated. The District Court held that the Democrats had standing under 26 U.S.C. § 9011(b)(1) -- which authorizes the FEC, "the national committee of any political party, and individuals eligible to vote for President" to institute such actions "as may be appropriate to implement or con[s]true any provisions of [the Fund Act]" -- to seek the requested declaratory relief, but that the Democrats and the FEC were not entitled to a declaration that § 9012(f) is constitutional. The court then held § 9012(f) unconstitutional on its face because it violated First Amendment freedoms of speech and association.

Held:

1. The Democrats lack standing under § 9011(b)(1). 470 U. S. 484-489.

(a) Contrary to the Democrats' assertion that there is no need to resolve the issue of their standing, raised in the FEC's appeal, because the FEC clearly has standing and the legal issues and relief requested are the same in both actions, this Court will decide the issue. It is squarely presented in the Democrats' appeal from the District Court's

Page 470 U. S. 481

determination that § 9011(b)(1) is unconstitutional, and if the District Court's decision that the Democrats have standing is allowed to stand, it could seriously interfere with the FEC's exclusive jurisdiction to determine how and when to enforce the Fund Act. Pp. 470 U. S. 484-486.

(b) The plain language of § 9011(b)(1) and § 306(b)(1) of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 (FECA) -- which provides that the FEC "shall administer, seek to obtain compliance with, and formulate policy with respect to" the Fund Act and confers on the FEC "exclusive jurisdiction with respect to the civil enforcement" of the Act -- clearly shows that the Democrats have no standing to bring a private action against another private party. The Democratic Party is clearly not included within those authorized by § 9011(b)(1) to bring an action. And, while the Democratic National Committee is authorized to bring an action, the action must be "appropriate" to implement or construe the provision of the Fund Act at issue. Reading § 306(b)(1) of the FECA and 26 U.S.C. § 9010(a) -- which authorizes the FEC to appear in and defend against any action filed under § 9011 -- together with § 9011, "appropriate" actions by private parties are those that do not interfere with the FEC's responsibilities for administering and enforcing the Fund Act. Accordingly, private suits to construe or enforce the Act are inappropriate interference with those responsibilities. Pp. 470 U. S. 486-489.

2. Section 9012(f) violates the First Amendment. Pp. 470 U. S. 490-501.

(a) The expenditures at issue are squarely prohibited by § 9012(f). And, as producing speech at the core of the First Amendment and implicating the freedom of association, they are entitled to full protection under that Amendment. Pp. 470 U. S. 490-496.

(b) Section 9012(f)'s limitation on independent expenditures by political committees is constitutionally infirm, absent any indication that such expenditures have a tendency to corrupt or to give the appearance of corruption. But even assuming that Congress could fairly conclude that large-scale political action committees have a sufficient tendency to corrupt, § 9012(f) is a fatally overbroad response to that evil. It is not limited to multimillion dollar war chests, but applies equally to informal discussion groups that solicit neighborhood contributions to publicize their views about a particular Presidential candidate. Pp. 470 U. S. 496-500.

(c) Section 9012(f) cannot be upheld as a prophylactic measure deemed necessary by Congress. The groups and associations in question here, designed expressly to participate in political debate, are quite different from the traditional organizations organized for economic gain that may properly be prohibited from making contributions to political candidates. P. 470 U. S. 500.

578 F.Supp. 797, affirmed in part and reversed in part.

Page 470 U. S. 482

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Part II of which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post, p. 470 U. S. 501. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in Part I of which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 470 U. S. 502. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 470 U. S. 518.

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