Common Cause v. Democratic National Committee

Decision Date27 August 1971
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 61-71.
PartiesCOMMON CAUSE et al., Plaintiffs, v. DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia


Lloyd N. Cutler, Louis F. Oberdorfer, Timothy B. Dyk, Jay F. Lapin, Robert A. Gerard, Vaughn C. Williams, Washington, D. C., for plaintiffs.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Steven M. Umin, Alexander E. Bennett, Irvin B. Nathan, Washington, D. C., for defendant Democratic National Committee.

Fred C. Scribner, Jr., E. Victor Willetts, Jr., Washington, D. C., Ralph I. Lancaster, Jr., pro hac vice, Portland, Me., for defendant Republican National Committee.

Henry S. Middendorf, Jr., New York City, Daniel M. Redmond, Suzanne Meyer, James A. Treanor, III, Washington, D. C., for defendant Conservative Party.


PARKER, District Judge.

Section 608 of Title 18, United States Code,1 prescribes limits for individual contributions and purchases in support of campaigns for elective Federal office. Section 6092 of that Title establishes permissible limits to annual receipts and expenditures by political committees.3 Both Sections provide penalties of a fine, imprisonment, or both, for violations.

The plaintiffs in this proceeding include Common Cause, a nonprofit, nonpartisan District of Columbia corporation whose announced concern is the promotion of social welfare, civic betterment and social improvement in the United States, with a particular interest in the integrity of the elective process; John W. Gardner, Chairman of Common Cause, and a resident and registered voter in the State of Maryland; Jonathan B. Bingham, Democrat-New York, and Gilbert Gude, Republican-Maryland, present members of the United States House of Representatives who assert their intention to seek reelection in 1972 to the 93rd Congress.

These plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief against the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, and the Conservative Party to protect, under these statutes, their alleged private beneficial interests as citizens, voters, campaign contributors and workers, and candidates for elective Federal office.

They contend that the defendants consistently and continually employ and conspire with other parties to use, with impunity, various devices designed to circumvent illegally §§ 608 and 609. They allege that the failure and apparent inability and unwillingness of the Justice Department to prosecute any of these alleged violations during the more than 30-year existence of the statutes makes a mockery of "the prophylactic purposes of these laws which were designed to prevent disparity in contributed financial resources from being a major factor in elections for elective Federal office and to prevent contributors of large amounts from exercising undue influence on the actions of elected Federal officials."4

They move the Court to join as class plaintiffs all registered voters in the several states and the District of Columbia, all citizens who make lawful contributions to candidates of their choice for elective Federal office or to political committees and political organizations, all citizens who otherwise participate in campaigns for the election of such candidates, and all members of Common Cause who are also members of the aforesaid classes. They also seek to include all political committees and political organizations as class defendants.

The immediate issues before the Court are presented by the defendants' motions to dismiss. They assert that the complaint fails to state a cause of action; lack of jurisdiction of the subject matter; lack of standing of the plaintiffs to sue; lack of justiciability; lack of an actual case or controversy; and, the absence of irreparable injury. They oppose the motion for designation of the proceedings as a class action.

The Court concludes that the motions to dismiss the complaint should be denied as to Common Cause, John W. Gardner and the designated members of Common Cause; and granted, without prejudice, as to Congressmen Bingham and Gude. Further, the Court concludes that the motion for a class action should be denied as to all except the designated members of Common Cause.


This Court has jurisdiction to consider such equitable actions as this5 pursuant to former Section 521 of Title 11 of the District of Columbia Code, 1967 Edition. That Code provision gives general equity jurisdiction and venue to this Court where either party is resident or found within the District of Columbia.6

The assertion of the Republican National Committee that jurisdiction is lacking because of a failure to state a cause of action is misplaced. "Whether the complaint states a cause of action on which relief could be granted * * * must be decided after and not before the court has assumed jurisdiction over the controversy. * * *" Bell et al. v. Hood et al., 327 U.S. 678, 682, 683, 66 S.Ct. 773, 776, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946). Exceptions to that rule—when the claim is wholly insubstantial and frivolous or is clearly immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction— are questionably jurisdictional and, in any event, inapplicable here.

And although the jurisdiction conferred by the District of Columbia Code makes it unnecessary to rely on 28 U.S.C. § 1331(a), it is clear that the underlying economic basis of the complaint—contributions in excess of $5,000 per person and expenditures in excess of $3,000,000 —far exceeds the $10,000 necessary to satisfy the jurisdictional requirement of the federal statute.7

Furthermore, if §§ 608 and 609 give rise to civil actions as alleged, this suit may be maintained under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(4) which provides jurisdiction

"(4) To recover damages or to secure equitable or other relief under any Act of Congress providing for the protection of civil rights, including the right to vote. * * *"8

In any event the Republican National Committee admits that if there is, in fact, a cause of action the Court has subject matter jurisdiction.9


There is no serious impediment to the plaintiffs' standing to sue in this matter. As recently stated by the Supreme Court, "* * * The fundamental aspect of standing is that it focuses on the party seeking to get his complaint before a federal court and not on the issues he wishes to have adjudicated." Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 99, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 1952, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 (1968). Has the party seeking relief "alleged such a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy as to assure that concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues upon which the court so largely depends for illumination of difficult constitutional questions?" Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 204, 82 S.Ct. 691, 703, 7 L.Ed.2d 663 (1962). "* * Thus, in terms of Article III limitations on federal court jurisdiction, the question of standing is related only to whether the dispute sought to be adjudicated will be presented in an adversary context and in a form historically viewed as capable of judicial resolution. * * *" Flast v. Cohen, supra, 392 U.S. at 101, 88 S.Ct. at 1953 (footnote omitted.) Where the alleged injured right arises under a statute the court may add the additional requirement that "the interest sought to be protected by the complainant is arguably within the zone of interests to be protected or regulated by the statute or constitutional guarantee in question." Association of Data Processing Service Organizations, Inc. et al. v. Camp et al., 397 U.S. 150, 153, 90 S.Ct. 827, 830, 25 L.Ed.2d 184 (1970).

If John W. Gardner and other voters, contributors, and campaign workers, and Congressmen Bingham and Gude as candidates comply with Sections 608 and 609 while other candidates and their supporters do not, the votes of the plaintiffs and their efforts to effect the nomination or election of individuals of their choice are likely to be, as a practical matter, diluted or even nullified. That is arguably within the zone of interests and the evils which the Congress perceived and accordingly sought to regulate. Plaintiffs "are asserting `a plain, direct and adequate interest in maintaining the effectiveness of their votes,' * * *, not merely a claim of `the right, possessed by every citizen to require that the Government be administered according to law. * * *'" Baker v. Carr, supra, 369 U.S. at 208, 82 S.Ct. at 705 (citations omitted.)10 Likewise, the declared interest of Common Cause in improving governmental responsiveness to the will of the unorganized mass of citizen voters adequately qualifies it to inititate this action.11


The defendants' allegation that the complaint fails to state a cause of action upon which relief may be granted poses a two-step inquiry. First, under what circumstances may an admittedly criminal statute create or imply a civil cause of action upon which relief can be granted? Second, do those circumstances exist with respect to §§ 608 and 609 of Title 18?

A consideration of the authorities leads this Court to conclude that civil actions may be implied from criminal statutes designed to protect a specific class.12 This is an old doctrine13 and it has found acceptance on the theory that "where federally protected rights have been invaded, it has been the rule from the beginning that courts will be alert to adjust their remedies so as to grant the necessary relief." Bell et al. v. Hood et al., supra, 327 U.S. at 684, 66 S.Ct. at 777 (footnote omitted).

In Texas & Pacific Railway Company v. Rigsby, 241 U.S. 33, 36 S.Ct. 482, 60 L.Ed. 874 (1916) the Court upheld a civil damage action arising from a violation of a penal provision of the Federal Safety Appliance Acts.14 It held, at page 39, 36 S.Ct. at page 484:

"None of the acts, indeed, contains express language conferring a right of action for the death or injury of an employee; but the safety of employees and travelers

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