Federal Election Commission v. Akins

Federal Election Commission v. Akins

Federal Election Commission v. Akins


Federal Election Commission v. Akins


Sometimes, a case that starts out being about one issue can be transformed through the appeals process into a case that becomes something much different.  Federal Election Commission v. Akins is such a case.  When the case began in court, it was brought by voters who wanted to lodge a lawsuit against a specific political group, claiming that this group should be regulated by the FEC as a political committee.  However, the suit ended up being about something much broader: whether a group of registered voters had the right to sue over something that affected them only indirectly.

The Case Begins


The case of Federal Election Commission v. Akins began when the American Israel Public Affairs Committee began spending money at a rate that was above the threshold for the Federal Election Commission to start referring to it as a political committee that could be regulated under campaign finance laws.  These laws would require AIPAC to report their donations, including their amount and who they came from, among other things.


When the FEC was asked by a group of voters to see whether AIPAC met the thresholds, they investigated and concluded that they in fact did.  However, they said that because AIPAC was not supporting a specific candidate or party, but rather were an issue based group, they were not bound by the same reporting regulations that a campaign group would be.  The group of voters took the case to court.


District Court Ruling


When the case was taken to district court, the court granted summary judgment against the group of voters.  Their reasoning was that there was no way that the conduct of AIPAC could have caused any injury to the group of voters, and according to the judges, no way that any legal remedy they could offer would directly benefit these voters.  Because of this, they ruled that there was no way that the parties had standing to sue.


Supreme Court Decision


The Supreme Court disagreed with what the district court had ruled.  Contrary to the district court's ruling, the Supreme Court said that the voters in question were the class protected by the election laws and regulations, and that therefore any registered voter had the right to sue.  Because the FEC would not provide the information that was required by the law, this was considered by the Supreme Court to automatically constitute an injury.


The court ruled that if the citizens had been merely taxpayers, but not registered voters, they would not have belonged to the class of people protected by the FEC's laws and would not have had standing to sue.  However, registered voters are the people who are supposed to be informed by the kinds of disclosures AIPAC was potentially required to make.  The court ruled that the voters had standing and ordered the trial court to rehear the case after using these rules.




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