1. The Federal Corrupt Practices Act of February 28, 1925,
provides that any political committee which accepts contributions
or makes expenditures for the purpose of influencing the election
of presidential or vice-presidential electors in two or more
States, or (with certain exceptions), as subsidiary of a national
committee, shall have a chairman and treasurer; that the treasurer,
among other duties, shall keep detailed and exact accounts of all
contributions made to or for the committee; that every person who
receives a contribution for the committee shall render to the
treasurer a detailed account thereof, with specified particulars,
and that the treasurer shall file with the Clerk of the House of
Representatives at designated times a statement containing the name
and address of each contributor, and other particulars, complete as
of the day next preceding the date of filing. Violations of the Act
are made substantive crimes. Held
within the power of
Congress. P. 290 U. S.
2. The Act seeks to protect the purity of presidential and
vice-presidential elections; it is confined to situations which are
beyond the power of a state to deal with adequately, if at all, and
Page 290 U. S. 535
purpose nor in effect does it interfere with the power of a
state, under § 1, Art. II of the Constitution, to appoint the
electors or with the manner in which their appointment shall be
made. P. 290 U. S.
3. Presidential electors are not officers or agents of the
Federal Government (In re Green, 134 U.
), but they exercise federal functions under, and
discharge duties in virtue of authority conferred by, the Federal
Constitution. P. 290 U. S.
4. The power of Congress to protect the election of President
and Vice-President from corruption being clear, the choice of means
is primarily for the judgment of Congress. If it can be seen that
the means adopted are really calculated to attain the end, the
degree of their necessity, the extent to which they conduce to the
end, the closeness of the relationship between the means adopted
and the end to be attained, are matters for congressional
determination alone. P. 290 U. S.
5. Counts of an indictment alleged with detail that B was the
treasurer of a political committee, within the intendment of the
Corrupt Practices Act, and that certain contributions, fully
described, were made for the committee; recited that it was B's
duty under the Act to file statements of these contributions, and
charged that B and C, chairman of the committee, "then well knowing
all the premises aforesaid," conspired to commit the offenses
charged in other counts, the allegations of which were incorporated
in the conspiracy counts by reference. The counts incorporated
sought to charge B with the substantive offenses, under the Act, of
failing and willfully failing to file statements of the
contributions with the Clerk of the House of Representatives.
that the conspiracy counts were sufficient, although
the substantive counts were bad because they did not allege that B
knew of the contributions. P. 290 U. S.
6. Intent unlawfully and willfully to evade performance of a
statutory duty is clearly enough alleged by the statement that the
accused conspired to evade it. P. 290 U. S.
7. Pertinent facts set forth in a defective count of an
indictment may be considered in determining the adequacy of another
count in which it is incorporated by reference. P 290 U. S.
62 App.D.C. 163, 65 F.2d 796, affirmed in part.
Review by certiorari of a judgment sustaining an indictment
charging Burroughs with substantive violations of the Corrupt
Practices Act, Cannon as aiding, abetting, and procuring commission
of the offenses, and both with conspiracy to commit them. The
Supreme Court of the District had quashed the whole indictment for
insufficiency. This Court rejects the substantive counts but
contains the conspiracy counts.
Page 290 U. S. 540
MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.
An indictment returned by a grand jury sitting in the District
of Columbia charges petitioners, in ten counts, with violations of
the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of February 28, 1925, c. 368,
Title III, 43 Stat. 1053, 1070; U.S.C. Title II, § 241, et
The pertinent provisions of the act are contained in §§
241, 242, and 243, reproduced in the margin *
and in §§ 244
and 252. Section 241 defines
Page 290 U. S. 541
the term, "political committee," as including any organization
which accepts contributions for the purpose of influencing or
attempting to influence the election of presidential and
vice-presidential electors in two or more states. Every political
committee is required to have a chairman and a treasurer before any
contribution may be accepted. One of the duties of the treasurer is
to keep a detailed and exact account of all contributions made
Page 290 U. S. 542
or for the committee. Every person who receives a contribution
for a political committee is required to render to the treasurer a
detailed account thereof, with specified particulars. By § 244, the
treasurer is required to file with the clerk of the House of
Representatives at designated times, a statement containing the
name and address of each contributor, date and amount of each
contribution, and other particulars, complete as of the day next
preceding the date of filing. By § 252(a), penalties of fine and
imprisonment are imposed upon any person who violates any of the
provisions of the chapter; and, by subdivision (b), increased
penalties are imposed upon any person who willfully violates any of
The first eight counts of the indictment purport to charge
petitioners with substantive violations of the act, and the ninth
and tenth counts, with conspiracy to violate it -- four of the
eight counts charging willful violations, the other four merely
charging violations, that is to say, unlawful violations.
In the Supreme Court of the District, a demurrer was interposed
to the indictment on the grounds (1) that each count of the
indictment failed to allege facts sufficient to constitute an
offense against the United States, and (2) that the Federal Corrupt
Practices Act contravenes § 1, Art. II, of the Federal
Constitution, providing for the appointment by each state of
electors. The District Supreme Court sustained the demurrer upon
the first ground, rendering unnecessary any ruling as to the
second. Upon appeal to the District Court of Appeals, the judgment
was reversed. That court ruled each of the ten counts sufficient,
and upheld the constitutionality of the act. 62 App.D.C. 163, 65
F.2d 796. The case is here on certiorari.
We do not stop to describe the eight substantive
counts. In the opinion of a majority of the court, there is a
failure in each count to charge an offense under the
Page 290 U. S. 543
statute. The conspiracy counts we hold are sufficient. The ninth
count charges with particularity that the petitioner Burroughs was
the treasurer of a designated political committee from July 22,
1928, to and including March 16, 1929, which committee during that
period accepted contributions and made expenditures for the purpose
of influencing and attempting to influence the election of
presidential and vice-presidential electors in two states. The
several amounts of certain contributions made for the committee are
set forth, together with the dates when made and the name of the
contributor. The count recites the duty of Burroughs under the
statute to make the statements therein prescribed in respect of
these contributions, and charges that both petitioners, one as
treasurer and the other as chairman of the committee, "then well
knowing all the premises aforesaid," unlawfully and feloniously did
conspire together and with other persons to commit "the four
willfully committed offenses" charged against Burroughs as
treasurer in the first, third, fifth, and seventh counts of the
indictment, namely, willful failure to file the statements of such
contributions required by § 244, the allegations of those counts
being incorporated by reference as fully as if repeated. The count
further alleges certain overt acts committed in pursuance of the
The tenth count charges in substantially identical language a
conspiracy to commit the four offenses not designated as willful,
charged in the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth counts of the
indictment, namely, unlawful failure to file the required
statements, the allegations of those counts being likewise
incorporated by reference as fully as if repeated.
We are of opinion that these allegations are sufficient in each
count to charge a conspiracy to violate the pertinent provisions of
the act. Knowledge of the facts constituting the contemplated
substantive offenses is sufficiently
Page 290 U. S. 544
alleged by the phrase, "well knowing all the premises
aforesaid." Brooks v. United States, 267 U.
, 267 U. S.
-440. And intent unlawfully, or unlawfully and
willfully, to evade performance of the statutory duty is clearly
enough alleged by the statement that the accused conspired to do
so. Frohwerk v. United States, 249 U.
, 249 U. S. 209
Moreover, quite apart from the question of their legal sufficiency
to charge substantive offenses, the eight counts which are
incorporated by description set forth the pertinent facts, and may
be considered in determining the adequacy of the conspiracy counts.
Crain v. United States, 162 U. S. 625
162 U. S. 633
Blitz v. United States, 153 U. S. 308
153 U. S. 317
These facts are narrated by the court below and need not be
The only point of the constitutional objection
necessary to be considered is that the power of appointment of
presidential electors and the manner of their appointment are
expressly committed by § 1, Art. II, of the Constitution to the
states, and that the congressional authority is thereby limited to
determining "the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which
they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout
the United States." So narrow a view of the powers of Congress in
respect of the matter is without warrant.
The congressional act under review seeks to preserve the purity
of presidential and vice-presidential elections. Neither in purpose
nor in effect does it interfere with the power of a state to
appoint electors or the manner in which their appointment shall be
made. It deals with political committees organized for the purpose
of influencing elections in two or more states, and with branches
or subsidiaries of national committees, and excludes from its
operation state or local committees. Its operation therefore is
confined to situations which, if not beyond the power of the state
to deal with at all, are beyond its
Page 290 U. S. 545
power to deal with adequately. It in no sense invades any
exclusive state power.
While presidential electors are not officers or agents of the
federal government (In re Green, 134 U.
, 134 U. S.
), they exercise federal functions under, and
discharge duties in virtue of authority conferred by, the
Constitution of the United States. The President is vested with the
executive power of the nation. The importance of his election and
the vital character of its relationship to and effect upon the
welfare and safety of the whole people cannot be too strongly
stated. To say that Congress is without power to pass appropriate
legislation to safeguard such an election from the improper use of
money to influence the result is to deny to the nation in a vital
particular the power of self-protection. Congress undoubtedly
possesses that power, as it possesses every other power essential
to preserve the departments and institutions of the general
government from impairment or destruction, whether threatened by
force or by corruption.
In Ex parte Yarbrough, 110 U.
, this Court sustained the validity of § 5508 of
the Revised Statutes, which denounced as an offense a conspiracy to
interfere in certain specified ways with any citizen in the free
exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by
the Constitution or laws of the United States, and of § 5520, which
denounced as an offense any conspiracy to prevent by force, etc.,
any citizen lawfully entitled to vote from giving his support,
etc., toward or in favor of the election of any lawfully qualified
person as an elector for President or Vice President, or as a
member of Congress. The indictments there under consideration
charged Yarbrough and others with conspiracies in violation of
these sections. The Court held, against the contention of the
accused, that both sections were constitutional. It is true that,
while § 5520 includes interferences with persons in
Page 290 U. S. 546
giving their support to the election of presidential and
vice-presidential electors, the indictments related only to the
election of a member of Congress. The Court, in its opinion,
however, made no distinction between the two, and the principles
announced, as well as the language employed, are broad enough to
include the former as well as the latter. The Court said (pp.
110 U. S.
"That a government whose essential character is republican,
whose executive head and legislative body are both elective, whose
most numerous and powerful branch of the legislature is elected by
the people directly, has no power by appropriate laws to secure
this election from the influence of violence, of corruption, and of
fraud, is a proposition so startling as to arrest attention and
demand the gravest consideration."
"If this government is anything more than a mere aggregation of
delegated agents of other states and governments, each of which is
superior to the general government, it must have the power to
protect the elections on which its existence depends from violence
"If it has not this power, it is left helpless before the two
great natural and historical enemies of all republics, open
violence and insidious corruption."
And, answering the objection that the right to vote for a member
of Congress is not dependent upon the Constitution or laws of the
United States, but is governed by state law, the court further said
(p. 110 U. S.
"If this were conceded, the importance to the general government
of having the actual election -- the voting for those members --
free from force and fraud is not diminished by the circumstance
that the qualification of the voter is determined by the law of the
state where he votes. It equally affects the government; it is as
indispensable to the proper discharge of the great function of
Page 290 U. S. 547
for that government, that those who are to control this
legislation shall not owe their election to bribery or violence,
whether the class of persons who shall vote is determined by the
law of the state, or by the laws of the United States, or by their
And finally (pp. 110 U. S.
"In a republican government, like ours, where political power is
reposed in representatives of the entire body of the people, chosen
at short intervals by popular elections, the temptations to control
these elections by violence and by corruption is a constant source
"* * * *"
"If the recurrence of such acts as these prisoners stand
convicted of are too common in one quarter of the country, and give
omen of danger from lawless violence, the free use of money in
elections, arising from the vast growth of recent wealth in other
quarters, presents equal cause for anxiety."
"If the government of the United States has within its
constitutional domain no authority to provide against these evils,
if the very sources of power may be poisoned by corruption or
controlled by violence and outrage, without legal restraint, then
indeed is the country in danger, and its best powers, its highest
purposes, the hopes which it inspires, and the love which enshrines
it, are at the mercy of the combinations of those who respect no
right but brute force, on the one hand, and unprincipled
corruptionists on the other."
These excerpts are enough to control the present case. To pursue
the subject further would be merely to repeat their substance in
other and less impressive words.
The power of Congress to protect the election of President and
Vice President from corruption being clear, the choice of means to
that end presents a question primarily addressed to the judgment of
Congress. If it can be seen
Page 290 U. S. 548
that the means adopted are really calculated to attain the end,
the degree of their necessity, the extent to which they conduce to
the end, the closeness of the relationship between the means
adopted, and the end to be attained, are matters for congressional
determination alone. Stephenson v. Binford, 287 U.
, 287 U. S. 272
Congress reached the conclusion that public disclosure of political
contributions, together with the names of contributors and other
details, would tend to prevent the corrupt use of money to affect
elections. The verity of this conclusion reasonably cannot be
denied. When to this is added the requirement contained in § 244,
that the treasurer's statement shall include full particulars in
respect of expenditures, it seems plain that the statute as a whole
is calculated to discourage the making and use of contributions for
purposes of corruption.
The judgment of the court below will be affirmed in respect of
the ninth and tenth counts or the indictment only, and the cause
remanded to the Supreme Court of the District for further
proceedings in conformity with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
"Section 241. Definitions. -- When used in this chapter --"
"* * * *"
"(c) The term 'political committee' includes any committee,
association, or organization which accepts contributions or makes
expenditures for the purpose of influencing or attempting to
influence the election of candidates or presidential and
vice-presidential electors (1) in two or more states, or (2)
whether or not in more than one state if such committee,
association, or organization (other than a duly organized state or
local committee of a political party) is a branch or subsidiary of
a national committee, association, or organization;"
"* * * *"
"242. Chairman and treasurer of political committee; duties as
to contributions; accounts and receipts. -- (a) Every political
committee shall have a chairman and a a treasurer. No contribution
shall be accepted, and no expenditure made, by or on behalf of a
political committee for the purpose of influencing an election
until such chairman and treasurer have been chosen."
"(b) It shall be the duty of the treasurer of a political
committee to keep a detailed and exact account of --"
"(1) All contributions made to or for such committee;"
"(2) The name and address of every person making any such
contribution, and the date thereof;"
"(3) All expenditures made by or on behalf of such committee;
"(4) The name and address of every person to whom any such
expenditure is made, and the date thereof."
"(c) It shall be the duty of the treasurer to obtain and keep a
receipted bill, stating the particulars, for every expenditure by
or on behalf of a political committee exceeding $10 in amount. The
treasurer shall preserve all receipted bills and accounts required
to be kept by this section for a period of at least two years from
the date of the filing of the statement containing such items."
"243. Accounts of contributions received. Every person who
receives a contribution for a political committee shall, on demand
of the treasurer, and, in any event, within five days after the
receipt of such contribution, render to the treasurer a detailed
account thereof, including the name and address of the person
making such contribution, and the date on which received."
MR. JUSTICE McREYNOLDS, dissenting in part.
To me it seems sufficiently clear that the trial judge rightly
sustained the demurrer to the entire indictment.
Since counts one to eight fail to charge any offense under the
statute, but are nevertheless incorporated by reference in the
conspiracy counts (nine and ten), we must carefully consider the
exact language by which the latter undertake to describe the
Count Nine, with italics supplied, alleges:
"And the grand jurors aforesaid, upon their oath aforesaid, do
further present, that said Ada L. Burroughs and
Page 290 U. S. 549
James Cannon, Jr., hereinafter called defendants, said James
Cannon, Jr., throughout said period of time being the chairman of
said political committee, continuously throughout said period of
time, and while said Ada L. Burroughs was such treasurer of said
political committee and said James Cannon, Jr., was chairman
thereof as aforesaid, each of said defendants then well knowing all
the premises aforesaid, unlawfully and feloniously did
confederate, and agree together, and with
divers other persons to said grand jurors unknown, to commit
divers, to-wit, four, offenses
against the United States,
that is to say, the four willfully committed offenses on the part
of said Ada L. Burroughs, as treasurer of said political committee,
charged against her
in the first, third, fifth,
counts of this indictment, the allegations of
which said counts descriptive of said offenses respectively, and of
the circumstances and conditions under which they were so
committed, are incorporated in this count, by reference to said
first, third, fifth, and seventh counts, as fully as if they were
Count 10, with italics supplied, alleges:
"And the grand jurors aforesaid, upon their oath aforesaid, do
further present that said Ada L. Burroughs and James Cannon, Jr.,
hereinafter called defendants, said James Cannon, Jr., throughout
said period of time being the chairman of said political committee,
continuously throughout said period of time, and while said Ada L.
Burroughs was such treasurer of said political committee and said
James Cannon, Jr., was chairman thereof as aforesaid, each of said
defendants then well knowing all the premises aforesaid, unlawfully
and feloniously did conspire, combine, confederate, and agree
together, and with divers other persons to said grand jurors
Page 290 U. S. 550
divers, to-wit, four, other
against the United States, that is to say, the four
on the part of said Ada L. Burroughs, as treasurer of
said political committee, charged against her
second, fourth, sixth,
counts of this
indictment, the allegations of which said counts descriptive of
said offenses respectively, and of the circumstances and conditions
under which they were so committed, are incorporated in this count,
by reference to said second, fourth, sixth, and eighth counts, as
fully as if they were here repeated."
Interpreted with proper regard to the defendants' rights, count
nine, also count ten, undertakes to describe a conspiracy to commit
crimes said to be charged against Burroughs in other counts. But
this Court now affirms that those counts fail adequately to specify
any offense whatsoever.
Thus, we have allegations of what are called conspiracies to
commit crimes which are nowhere adequately described. And I cannot
think that such pleading should find toleration in any criminal
An indictment ought to set out with fair certainty the charge to
which the accused must respond. If crime has been committed, a
fairly capable prosecuting officer can definitely describe it.
Here, we have an example of what seems to me inordinate
difficulty unnecessarily thrust upon the accused. An experienced
trial judge was unable to find proper description of crime in any
of the ten counts of the indictment. The Court of Appeals, with a
judge of long service dissenting, ruled that every count was
sufficient. This Court, being divided, now declares eight of the
counts bad, but holds that two are sufficient.
Surely such contrariety of opinion concerning allegations of the
indictment indicates plainly enough that no man should be required
to go to trial under it.