FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF AND FOR
1. On April 24, 2000, Plaintiffs Natural Law Party of the United States (“Natural Law Party”), Dr. John Hagelin (“Hagelin”) and John Moore (“Moore”) filed an administrative complaint with the Federal Election Commission (“the Commission” or “FEC”) bringing to the Commission’s attention violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act (“FECA” or “the Act”) by the Commission on Presidential Debates (“CPD”), the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) and the Republican National Committee (“RNC”). That administrative complaint was given the designation “MUR 5004.” A copy of that administrative complaint is attached hereto as Exhibit A.
2. The FEC dismissed Plaintiffs’ complaint on July 19, 2000. A copy of the FEC’s July 24, 2000 letter notifying Plaintiffs of that dismissal is attached hereto as Exhibit B. Pursuant to 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(8)(A), plaintiffs now hereby petition this Court for a declaration that the FEC’s dismissal of their administrative complaint was contrary to law and an order directing the Commission to conform to the Court’s declaration.
3. CPD, which is a creation of DNC and RNC and controlled by them, has announced plans to sponsor candidate debates during the 2000 general election campaign for President. As alleged in Plaintiffs’ administrative complaint and elaborated within, CPD’s sponsorship of such debates violates FECA in several ways. Because CPD’s sponsorship of candidate debates is not non-partisan but is intended to and would promote the candidates of the Democratic and Republican parties to the exclusion of candidates and issues advanced by other parties: 1) CPD’s expenditures in sponsorship of the debates are expenditures by a corporation in connection with an election to public office, and specifically in connection with the election of presidential electors, which are prohibited by 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a); 2) CPD’s expenditures in sponsorship of presidential debates are contributions to DNC and RNC, receipt of which is prohibited by 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a); 3) CPD is a political committee within the meaning of 2 U.S.C. § 431(4)(A) and has failed to register as such or make periodic reports of contributions and expenditures as required by the Act and has thereby deprived Plaintiffs and others of information required by the Act; 4) because CPD is a political committee within the meaning of the Act, its receipt of contributions from corporate sponsors violates 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a); and 5) DNC and RNC have failed to report CPD’s contributions as required by the Act and thereby have thereby deprived Plaintiffs and others of information required by the Act.
Jurisdiction and Venue
4. This action arises under the Federal Election Campaign Act (“FECA”), 2 U.S.C. §§ 431, et. seq., and the Declaratory Judgement Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201. This Court has jurisdiction under 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(8)(A) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
district has venue under 2 U.S.C. § 437g(a)(8)(A) and 28 U.S.C. §§
6. Plaintiff NLP is a non-profit corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Iowa. The FEC recognized that NLP had achieved national party status in FEC Advisory Opinion 1992-30, dated September 21, 1992. NLP’s 1996 presidential and vice-presidential nominees appeared on the ballot of more than 43 states. NLP will qualify prior to the time of the proposed debates to place its 2000 presidential and vice-presidential nominees on the ballots of states that collectively have more than 270 votes in the electoral college — the number required to elect the President and Vice-President. If NLP’s candidates are not permitted to participate in candidate debates, NLP will be disadvantaged in its ability to present its views on issues of public concern, and its candidates will be disadvantaged in their ability to compete for votes. If CPD is allowed to sponsor candidate debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees as proposed, the Democratic and Republican nominees will have the unfair and unlawful advantage of the resulting free television time. As a competitor of the Democratic and Republican parties, NLP has an interest in information about what persons and organizations are supporting CPD and thereby the Democratic and Republican parties. NLP’s address is 402 North ‘B’ Street, Fairfield, Iowa, 52556.
7. Plaintiff Hagelin was NLP’s 1996 nominee for President, and qualified for federal matching funds in that election. He is the nominee of the NLP and the Reform Party in the 2000 presidential election and has again qualified for federal matching funds. Hagelin is a registered voter in Iowa. He satisfies all of the requirements to be President set forth in Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. As a candidate and voter, he has an interest in information about what persons and organizations are supporting CPD and thereby the Democratic and Republican parties. He also has an interest in fair competition among candidates and parties for electoral votes and presentation of ideas on issues of public importance. His address is 1950 Mansion Drive, Fairfield, Iowa, 52556.
8. Complainant John Moore is a member of the NLP Executive Committee. He is a registered voter in Iowa. Moore has an interest in information about what persons and organizations are supporting CPD and thereby the Democratic and Republican parties, and in fair competition among candidates and parties for electoral votes and presentation of ideas on issues of public importance. His address is 700 North Third Street, Fairfield, Iowa, 52556.
9. Defendant FEC is an independent administrative agency of the United States, created pursuant to 2 U.S.C. § 437(c). It is responsible for enforcing the FECA, and is required to investigate alleged violations of the FECA. The FEC’s address is 999 ‘E’ Street, Washington, D.C. 20463.
10. In 1985, the chairs of DNC and RNC agreed to work together to eliminate the League of Women Voters’ traditional role as the sponsor of presidential debates and to replace the League’s debates with nationally televised joint appearances conducted between the presidential and vice-presidential nominees of the two major political parties. Fifteen months later the two national committees issued a joint press release announcing the creation of CPD, and declaring that CPD was a “bipartisan” organization formed to implement joint sponsorship of general election debates by DNC and RNC between their respective nominees.
11. As has been true since its inception, members of CPD include a former chairman of the DNC, a former chairman of the RNC, and other representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties.
12. Throughout its history, CPD has not operated on a non-partisan basis but at the direction and control of the two parties that created it.
13. Beginning with a 1987 CPD advisory committee report, CPD has purported to adhere to a standard by which only candidates with a “realistic chance” of winning the election will be included in the presidential debates. In fact, however, the inclusion or exclusion of debate candidates has been primarily a matter of negotiation between the two parties.
14. In 1996 the
FEC promulgated 11 C.F.R. § 110.13(c), requiring “pre-established
objective criteria to determine which candidates may participate in a debate.”
CPD’s published 1996 criteria continued to adhere to the “realistic chance
of winning” standard. But, despite § 110.13(c)’s requirement
that “staging organization(s) shall not use nominations by a particular
party as the sole objective criterion to determine whether to include a
candidate in a debate,” the CPD criteria specifically reserved debate spots
for the Democratic and Republican nominees simply by virtue of their nominations.
16. CPD’s third criteria is designed to exclude all candidates other than the nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties and thereby to limit debate on issues of national importance. It bears no rational relationship to “nonpartisan activity designed to encourage individuals to vote or to register to vote.” 2 U.S.C. § 431 (9)B)(ii).
17. As part of its efforts to sponsor candidate debates for the 2000 general election, CPD has accepted substantial contributions from for-profit corporations.
18. Plaintiffs repeat and incorporate the allegations of paragraphs 1 through 17 as if fully set forth herein.
19. The FEC acted contrary to law by dismissing plaintiff’s administrative complaint. Contrary to the findings of the FEC in dismissing that complaint, CPD, RNC and DNC have violated the FECA in each of the following ways.
Violations of 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a)
20. The FECA makes it “unlawful for . . . any corporation . . . to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with any election to any political office, or . . . for any corporation whatever. . . to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with any election at which presidential or vice presidential electors . . . are to be voted for.” 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a). CPD, a corporation, has expended and/or will expend substantial sums of money for sponsorship of debates in connection with the 2000 presidential and vice presidential elections.
21. “Expenditure,” as defined by the Act, “does not include nonpartisan activity designed to encourage individuals to vote or to register to vote.” 2 U.S.C. § 431(9)(B)(ii). CPD’s sponsorship of debates is not, however, “nonpartisan activity designed to encourage individuals to vote.” CPD was formed by Democratic and Republican party leaders on a bi-partisan, not nonpartisan, basis for the purpose of controlling presidential debates that had traditionally been conducted by truly nonpartisan groups, such as the League of Women Voters. Throughout its history, CPD’s conduct of debates has been governed by bipartisan negotiations between the major parties with the purpose and effect of reducing or eliminating the voice of third parties and their advocacy of candidates and ideas. Its debate expenditures are, therefore, unlawful under 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a).
22. Section 441b(a) also make it unlawful for “for any candidate, political committee or other person knowingly to accept or receive any contribution” from a corporation. By accepting from CPD sponsorship of debates and resulting free television time, DNC and RNC and their nominees have violated or are about to violate the Act.
23. CPD has raised and/or will raise a substantial amount of money from corporate contributors for sponsorship of debates. Since CPD’s major purpose is to facilitate the election of either of the major parties’ candidates for president and to exclude other parties and candidates from the election process, and it has expended or is about to expend more than $1,000 to that end, it is itself a “political committee” within the meaning of the Act. 2 U.S.C. § 431(4)(A). By accepting contributions from corporate sponsors it has further violated § 441b(a).
24. CPD’s sponsorship of debates also violates FEC regulations interpreting FECA. 11 C.F.R. § 110.13(a) allows staging of candidate debates only by nonprofit organizations that “do not endorse, support, or oppose political candidates or political parties.” CPD, however, was created by the Democratic and Republican parties and continues to support and serve their joint interest in limiting the participation of third party candidates and the full-range of discussion of issues.
25. FEC regulations also provide that “staging organization(s) must use pre-established objective criteria to determine which candidates may participate in a debate.” 11 C.F.R. 110.13(c).
26. CPD’s third criteria — electoral support as measured by polls — is subjective by nature and unreasonable as a criteria for selection of debate participants. Polling results are approximations of what they seek to measure with substantial margins of error. Results can be significantly influenced by subjective factors, including the design of the polling questions. The selection of 15 percent as the required level of support is also subjective and arbitrary. It was selected by CPD’s constituents, the Democratic and Republican parties, as a presumptively safe barrier for the exclusion of third party candidates.
27. Any criteria based on pre-debate electoral support is not a reasonable basis for selection of debate participants. The nonpartisan purpose of candidate debates is to give the public exposure to the full range of candidates and ideas and to give candidates the opportunity to earn electoral support. Exclusion based on pre-debate electoral support serves instead the CPD’s bipartisan purpose of protecting the status quo, excluding third party candidates and limiting the discussion of issues of public importance.
28. A debate that is designed to narrow the options of voters by creating the false impression that the only candidates on the ballot are the Democratic and Republican candidates, or by sending the message that the only legitimate candidates are the candidates of the Democratic and Republican Parties, is not a “nonpartisan activity designed to encourage individuals to vote or to register to vote” within the meaning of 2 U.S.C. § 431(9)(B)(ii).
29. Excluding qualified candidates with ballot access from debates prior to the general election serves only to perpetuate the candidates and policies of the incumbent parties and to insulate them from open challenge and scrutiny in the democratic electoral process.
Violations of 2 U.S.C. §§ 433 & 434
30. The Act defines “political committee” to include “any committee, club, association, or other group of persons which . . . makes expenditures aggregating in excess of $1,000 during a calendar year.” 2 U.S.C. § 431(4)(A). “The term ‘expenditure’ includes any purchase, payment, . . . or gift of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office.” Id. at § 431(9)(A)(i). Since CPD’s major purpose is to facilitate the election of either of the major parties’ candidates for president and to exclude other parties and candidates from the election process, and it has expended or is about to expend more than $1,000 to that end, it is a “political committee” within the meaning of the Act.
31. Political committees must register as such and must make periodic reports that include a detailing of their contributions and expenditures. Id. at §§ 433, 434. Candidates’ campaign committees must also make reports that include “contributions from other political committees.” Id. at §§ 434(b)(2)(D).
32. CPD, by failing to register and report as a political committee, and the Democratic and Republican campaign committees, by failing to report CPD’s contributions, have violated FECA and deprived Plaintiffs of information required by the Act.
Prayer for Relief
WHEREFORE, Plaintiffs respectfully request that this Court:
1) Declare that the FEC’s dismissal of plaintiff’s administrative complaint was contrary to law.
2) Declare that CPD, DNC and RNC have violated or are about to violate 2 U.S.C. § 441b(a) by making prohibited expenditures and/or accepting prohibited contributions;
3) Declare that CPD has violated or is about to violate 11 C.F.R. § 110.13 by staging candidate debates in a partisan manner and without pre-established, objective criteria.
4) Declare that CPD, DNC and RNC have violated or are about to violate 2 U.S.C. §§ 433 and 434 by CPD’s failing to register as a political committee and by failing to make required reports and disclosures;
5) Declare that CPD must use debate participant criteria that include all candidates that are constitutionally eligible and have gained ballot access in enough states to be elected;
6) Declare that CPD’s sponsorship of debates should be enjoined as presently proposed;
7) Order the FEC to conform to the declaration of this Court..