Court ruling means no FEC rulemaking process on “527” organizations

ARLINGTON, VA – Today, the United States Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment to the Federal Election Commission in the campaign finance case Rep. Christopher Shays, et al v. FEC.  The ruling means that the FEC does not have to institute rulemaking to regulate 527 groups.   Instead, the FEC can continue with case-by-case reviews of 527 organizations.

The decision is welcome news to supporters of free speech.  “Forced rulemaking by the FEC would have turned thousands of citizens’ organizations into highly regulated ‘political committees,'” said chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and former FEC chairman Bradley Smith. “Such regulations would threaten to strangle citizens’ free speech rights.”

In the case, Reps. Christopher Shays and Martin Meehan sued the FEC hoping to compel the FEC into writing regulations concerning the applicability of campaign finance laws to 527 organizations.   The FEC countered that comprehensive rulemaking would be inappropriate because current law does not regulate all 527’s.

“The plaintiffs wanted to treat independent advocacy organizations as if they were against the law,” explained Smith.  “But nothing is further from the truth.   The First Amendment expressly guarantees citizens the right to join together and petition their government.”

The plaintiffs originally brought suit in September 2004 claiming that the FEC’s failure to issue rules governing 527’s was arbitrary and capricious.   In 2006 the Court ordered the FEC to either better explain its decision or institute new rulemaking.  In February 2007, the FEC issued its supplemental explanation.   Today’s ruling means that the court was satisfied with the FEC’s supplemental explanation.

“It’s great to see the FEC win a victory for the First Amendment and citizens’ rights of speech, assembly, and petition,” Smith concluded.