For more than a year, the Federal Election Commission has been trying to force former budget director Bert Lance to answer questions about the financing of his unsuccessful 1974 Georgia gubernatorial campaign.
Lance's attorneys have been turned back by the U.S. District Court in Rome, Ga., several times in efforts to quash an FEC subpoena for Lance. The FEC argues that there is "probable cause" to believe that federal laws were violated in the financing of the campaign with bank loans. The case is now before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Wednesday, the FEC went before the appellate court in an attempt to get the subpoena enforced. A court official said a decision can be expected in a few weeks.
The FEC, in its brief to the court, said it believes civil election-law violations were committed by the 1974 Bert Lance for Governor Committee, the Calhoun (Ga.) First National Bank, which Lance once headed, and the National City Bank of Rome.
The Rome bank, about 20 miles from Calhoun, is headed by a close personal friend of Lance, Lloyd Sumner.
Sumner has been called to testify before the federal grand jury in Atlanta, which is investigating Lance's financial dealings.
Robert Altman, Lance s attorney here, said that the FEC is exceeding its statutory authority. Noting that the FEC was created by the government in 1974, Altman said: "It's extending its statutory authority over matters that took place in 1974, prior to its creation."
Altman said that Lance had already turned down "a settlement overture by the government." FEC attorneys refused comment on the case.
The FEC case rests on the federal law that says: "It is unlawful for any retail bank or any corporation organized by authority of any law of Congress to make a contribution or expenditure in connection with any election to any political office or in connection with any primary election."
Altman argues that this law, making such contributions subject to civil penalties, was not enacted until 1976, well after Lance's campaign.
Lance was first subpoenaed to appear on Dec. 2, 1977, before the FEC. A motion by Lance's attorney to quash the subpoena was denied by U.S. District Court Judge Harold Murphy in Rome on Nov. 29.
Lance ignored the subpoena, and on Feb. 9, 1978, Murphy ordered Lance to comply.
A motion by Lance asking the judge to reconsider his decision was denied on March 27. And on April 6, Murphy refused to stay his decision pending an appeal.
But on April 26, the court of appeals granted the stay. The court heard oral arguments in the case Wednesday.