Judge rules FEC wrongly dismissed complaint against conservative group


A federal district judge on Tuesday ruled the Federal Election Commission (FEC) once again wrongly dismissed a 2012 complaint against a conservative nonprofit after it allegedly failed to register as a political committee and report the millions it spent on advertising before the 2010 midterm elections.

The complaint against the American Action Network (AAN), a group aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), was filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a liberal watchdog targeting so-called dark money groups.


CREW argued that AAN evaded record-keeping and disclosure requirements under the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971.

The FEC, however, dismissed the complaint. It said AAN’s ads did not have the requisite major purpose of nominating or electing a candidate and therefore did not qualify as a political committee.

But in a 30-page opinion Tuesday, Judge Christopher Cooper said he found a legal error in the commission’s approach to analyzing AAN’s status as a political committee and sent back CREW’s complaint.

“The [Federal Election Campaign Act] and [Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002] require the agency to presume that spending on electioneering communications contributes to a ‘major purpose’ of nominating or electing a candidate for federal office, and, in turn, to presume that such spending supports designating an entity as a ‘political committee’ under [the Federal Election Campaign Act],” he wrote.

“Because the Commission failed to apply those presumptions, its dismissal of CREW’s complaints against AAN was ‘contrary to law,’ ” he wrote.

Tuesday’s decision is the second time Cooper has ruled against the FEC for wrongly dismissing CREW’s complaint. 

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