(CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., dismissed a challenge to the Federal Elections Commission’s refusal to regulate the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as a political committee, calling the drawn-out litigation a “seemingly inexhaustible Hydra.”
“This never-ending legal saga has spanned almost twenty years, multiple administrative complaints, and the careers of numerous Judges and Justices,” U.S. District Judge Richard Leon wrote. “To say the least, the time to complete the judicial review of these FEC decisions is long overdue. While time will tell what role, if any, this Opinion will have played in this interminable legal drama, I certainly trust that I will be the last District Judge that has to wrestle with this seemingly inexhaustible Hydra.”
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group with roughly 50,000 supporters and a multimillion-dollar budget.
Several former ambassadors, congressmen and government officials sued the Federal Election Commission (FEC) over its failure to regulate AIPAC as a political committee.
Political committees must register and report their campaign expenditures.
Judge Leon described the “appellate odyssey” which began in 1989, when AIPAC was accused of illegal campaign expenditures. AIPAC explained that because the expenditures were membership organization communications, not attempts to influence federal elections, they were not subject to regulation.
Between 1992 and 2000, the FEC and various courts repeatedly upheld AIPAC’s status as a lobbying organization, not a political committee, because its “major purpose” was not to influence federal elections.
The case made its way to the Supreme Court, where the justices sidestepped the “major purpose” test, noting that the FEC had proposed new membership rules that might exempt AIPAC from federal regulation.
On remand, the FEC found that AIPAC was a “membership organization,” not a political committee aimed at influencing elections.
The plaintiffs again challenged the decision, but Judge Leon backed the FEC’s view.
“While the dividing line between lobbying and electioneering may be, at times, hard to draw and lobbying efforts may be, at times, linked to influencing elections, nothing in the Act indicates that the Commission acted contrary to law by refusing to equate lobbying in general — and AIPAC’s lobbying in particular — with efforts to influence federal elections,” Leon wrote.
AIPAC has been repeatedly investigated as a result of the litigation, effectively requiring the kind of financial reporting the plaintiffs sought. All investigations have fond AIPAC’s communications to be issue-oriented, not campaign-related.
Plaintiffs included former Qatar ambassador Andrew Killgore; former Rep. Paul Findley; Richard Curtiss, former chief inspector of the U.S. Information Agency; and Orin Parker, former president of America-Mideast Educational and Training Services.
Three plaintiffs — James Akins, Robert J. Hanks and George Ball — have died since the complaint was first filed in 1989.