In a ruling intended to provoke a court suit, the Federal Election Commission yesterday voted 5 to 1 to prohibit two of the nation's richest conservative political action committees from contributing more than $1,000 apiece in so-called "independent expenditures" in next year's presidential campaign.
The commission advised the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) and the Fund for a Conservative Majority (FCM) that it will enforce the $1,000 limit in next year's general election despite a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that had the effect of striking it down.
"What the commission has done amounts to a blatant act of bureaucratic tyranny," said Robert Heckman, chairman of the FCM, who vowed to seek an injunction.
In 1980, a three-judge panel U.S. District Court panel ruled that the limit violated the free speech clause of the Constitution. It found that a presidential candidate's decision in a general election to forgo private funding "cannot bind his or her supporters outside the campaign" from making independent expenditures on the candidate's behalf.
In 1982 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision on a 4-to-4 vote, with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor abstaining.
Since a tie vote does not set precedent, the FEC decided it would continue to enforce the limit. FEC spokesman Fred Eiland said the action was a way of "forcing the issue in the courts."
In 1980, $13.7 million was spent by independent groups on behalf of presidential campaigns, the vast bulk on behalf of President Reagan. In 1984, FCM and NCPAC hope to spend at least $10 million helping reelect Reagan if he chooses to run.