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Judge Scraps Nader’s FEC Suit Over 2004 Election

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Federal Election Commission properly dismissed a claim that the Democrats received illegal contributions and free services from attorneys to keep Ralph Nader off of ballots in 18 states, a federal judge ruled.

While the FEC's decision-making was less than ideal, dismissing Nader's complaint was not contrary to law, Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said.

Nader, who ran for president on the Independent Party ticket in 2004, filed a federal complaint last year against the FEC over the dismissal of his grievance.

The administrative complaint alleged a vast conspiracy by individuals, law firms and political organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party to deny Nader and running mate Peter Camejo ballot access in 18 states during the 2004 general election. Nader alleged that at least 95 lawyers and 53 law firms, along with the Service Employees International Union and a group called America Coming Together, violated the Federal Election Campaign Act by making unreported contributions to the Kerry-Edwards campaign.

"Nader's theory was that the value of the legal services provided by law firms and individual lawyers who assisted in ballot challenges to Nader-Camejo constituted 'contributions' to either the DNC or the Kerry-Edwards Campaign, and therefore resulted in violations of FECA's reporting requirements and contribution limits, as well as its ban on corporate contributions," Lamberth summarized.

After receiving the complaint, Nader claimed that the FEC notified only two of the individuals named in the complaint: DNC treasurer Andrew Tobias and Kerry-Edwards treasurer David Thorne. Nader claimed that his complaint named hundreds of individuals and entities, and that the FEC refused to notify them in an effort to "reserve resources" and to "comport with its 'practice of avoiding over-notification.'"

Lamberth agreed that the FEC should have sent notices to the individuals named in Nader's complaint, but he still concluded that the agency had not acted arbitrarily and capriciously in dismissing the complaint.

The judge backed the FEC's reasoning that Nader didn't tell the agency how the named law firms coordinated with Kerry's campaign so that the firms' expenditures constituted regulated contributions. He also backed the agency's determination that there was no reason to believe that the DNC, the Kerry Committee, their treasurers or John Kerry himself violated FECA.

Though Lamberth did find that the FEC had failed to notify all of the named parties involved, he ruled that the notice procedures are for the benefit of those whom Nader had named. As such, the FEC's failure was harmless."Although the FEC's decision making in this case was, at times, of less than ideal clarity, and although its practices with respect to notification of respondents merit the agency's attention given the drift this court has observed between those practices and the procedural requirements of FECA, the agency's decision in this case is not contrary to law," Lamberth wrote.

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