FEC Appeals Hidden Records Case

The Fed. Election Comm’n filed an appeal Feb. 15 in a case testing the limits of disclosure of documents from FEC investigations of possible campaign finance violations.  The notice of appeal was filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Dist. of Columbia Circuit. It challenged a decision by U.S. Dist. Judge  Gladys Kessler (D.D.C., Clinton), that documents from the FEC probe of links between the Democratic Nat’l Committee and the AFL-CIO must be kept secret. The FEC investigation was launched following reports of a $35 million AFL-CIO effort to aid Democrats in the 1996 congressional election

The four FEC commissioners participating in the case — two FEC members are recused — voted unanimously for the appeal in a closed meeting Feb. 12. The move means that the FEC will defend its historic policy of placing virtually all documents from campaign finance investigations on the public record, once the case is closed. FEC Chairman David Mason said that some documents involving other FEC enforcement cases would continue to be made public pending the appeals court decision. Just which documents to make public in each case will be decided “on more or less an ad hoc basis,” Mason said.

Kessler held that federal law only requires limited disclosure of documents resulting from an investigation by the commission. Only summary documents, such as a settlement agreement or FEC general counsel’s report about a case, should be disclosed.  In Dec. 19 decision, Kessler acknowledged that the decision would end “a 25-year practice by the FEC to make available to the public the full investigatory record pertaining to any complaint filed once the complaint is resolved.” [BNA 2/19/02]