Campaign Finance Reform: A Sourcebook

By Anthony Corrado; Thomas E. Mann et al. | Go to book overview

sion v. National Right to Work Committee, 916 F. Supp. 10 (D.D.C. 1996); and Federal Election Commission v. National Republican Senatorial Committee, 877 F. Supp. 15 (D.D.C. 1995). The statute of limitations for campaign finance violations prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 or 1001 is five years. See 18 U.S.C. § 3282. The Justice Department may prosecute under these ancillary criminal provisions (conspiracy, fraud, and so on) even though the three-year FEC statute of limitations has run, if the five-year statute applicable to the federal criminal statutes has not yet passed.

Some courts have found that the statute of limitations period commences when the violation is committed. In Williams, the court rejected the FECs' argument that the period should be "tolled" (with the clock not started) until the violation is discovered; Williams, 104 F.3d at 240. The FEC also contended that the period should be tolled or frozen under the doctrine of "equitable tolling" for fraudulent concealment. Tolling a limit under this theory requires a showing that the defendant fraudulently concealed operative facts, that the FEC failed to discover the facts in the limitations period, and that the FEC pursued the facts diligently until discovery of the facts. The court rejected this argument also, determining that the FEC had the facts it needed in FECA reports filed by recipient committees to discover the operative facts; Williams, 104 F.3d at 241. The practical effect of these decisions is to make it significantly more difficult for the FEC to pursue allegations of campaign finance violations, and to cause the Commission to close a number of high-profile investigations that were past or near the five-year limit. Especially in the case of presidential campaigns, which undergo a multiyear audit before the Commission even authorizes the opening of an enforcement matter, the combination of the FEC's current capabilities and the fiveyear statute of limitations means that many investigations will as a practical matter be aborted without a resolution.


NOTES
1.
In certain circumstances, where a local committee can sufficiently demonstrate its independence, it will not be considered part of a state committee.
2.
For purposes of calculating this limitation, a contribution to a candidate for an election in a year other than the year in which the contribution is made is considered to be made during the year in which that election is held. Thus, a $1,000 contribution made in 1997 to a candidate running for office in 1998 will count toward the contributor's annual limit for 1998. Contributions to multicandidate committees are always counted toward the limit of the year in which the contribution is made. 2 U.S.C. § 441a(a)(3).
3.
The Federal Election Commission has required that a "committee, club, association, or other group of persons" as defined by section A of 2 U.S.C. § 431(4) have the "influencing of federal elections" as a major purpose in order to be considered a "political committee," based on the FEC's reading of Supreme Court rulings. However, the D.C. Circuit recently rejected this criterion, indicating that the $1,000 threshold for contributions is pertinent for evaluating political committee status (but "major purpose" is still the test if the group makes only expenditures). See Akins v. FEC, 101 F.3d 731 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (en banc), cert. granted, 65 U.S.L.W. 3825 (U.S. June 16, 1997) (No. 96- 1590).
4.
"Promotion of political ideas" is defined as "issue advocacy, election influencing activity, and research, training or educational activity that is expressly tied to the organization's political goals"; 11 C.F.R. § 114.10(b)(1).
5.
Examples of such benefits are credit cards, insurance policies, savings plans, or training, education, or business information supplied by the corporation; 11 C.F.R. § 114.10(c)(3)(ii)(A) and (B).
6.
A nonprofit corporation can show through its accounting records that this criterion is satisfied, or will meet this requirement if it is a qualified 501(c)(4) corporation and has a written policy against accepting

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