End Citizens United PAC and Campaign Legal Center Action Score a Win for FEC Accountability
Washington, D.C. – On June 9th, 2023, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a ruling in End Citizens United PAC v Federal Election Commission, a case filed by End Citizens United (ECU), represented by Campaign Legal Center Action (CLCA).
At issue in this case is the problematic pattern of FEC Commissioners delaying the release of their reasoning for dismissing complaints alleging campaign finance violations.
In this case, End Citizens United filed a complaint with the FEC in 2019 alleging that the campaign of then-President Donald Trump violated campaign finance law. In response, the Commission not only failed to enforce the law, but the FEC also delayed releasing any explanation of its decision to dismiss the complaint for more than two months and until after ECU’s deadline to challenge the FEC’s dismissal in court.
“A functioning and effective FEC is a vital organ in our democracy, and the Circuit Court’s ruling brings us one step closer to reaching that ideal,” said Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United. “It’s no secret that the gridlock and dysfunction within the agency has resulted in a dereliction of its core responsibilities, which ultimately opens the door for unfettered corruption in our elections. This is a big win that will force the FEC to be more transparent and accountable in fulfilling its obligations."
Siding with ECU, the ruling held that if FEC Commissioners dismiss a case, they must do so in a timely fashion and explain their decision “at the time” of the dismissal. The court pointed out that when the FEC delays explaining its actions, it undermines “‘agency accountability’ by keeping the complainant and interested members of the public in the dark.” The D.C. Circuit ordered that the case be returned to the FEC for further action.
"Failures by the Federal Election Commission to enforce campaign finance laws allow our politics to become increasingly rigged in favor of special interests,” said Adav Noti, Executive Director of CLCA. "We applaud the Court's decision – one that imposes accountability on the Commission for failing to do its job, and hopefully marks a step towards fixing the FEC’s dysfunction."
When those who violate campaign finance law are not held accountable - and those who should be enforcing the law throw a veil of confusion over the proceedings by not explaining their actions in a reasonable and timely way, the trust of voters diminishes and corruption thrives.
As the Court pointed out, when the FEC delays releasing its reasoning to such an extent as we have seen repeatedly in recent years, a reasonable conclusion is that these delays are intended to frustrate the ability of complainants to hold the agency accountable. This is not the way the agency responsible for enforcing our federal campaign finance laws should be functioning - the FEC must provide genuine reasons for its actions, and that requires timeliness and transparency.
To reduce political corruption, we need a strong FEC to enforce campaign finance laws and hold political candidates and their donors accountable. It is well past time for the FEC to do its job.