The Federal Election Commission won at least partial victories yesterday in legal battles with two of the nation's most prominent conservative groups, the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) and the National Congressional Club (NCC).
In New York, U.S. District Court Judge Gerard Goettel ruled that NCPAC's 1982 "independent" campaign against Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) was an illegal campaign contribution to then-Rep. Bruce Caputo (R-N.Y.), who ran briefly against Moynihan.
NCPAC gained extensive publicity in 1980 when it ran "independent" campaigns against such liberal Democratic senators as George McGovern (S.D.) and Frank Church (Idaho). McGovern and Church were among a number of Democratic incumbents who lost in 1980 when the Republicans gained control of the Senate. Since then, NCPAC has not had as much success.
In the 1982 Moynihan contest, the FEC charged that NCPAC's $73,755 campaign against Moynihan was not "independent" because political consultant and pollster Arthur J. Finkelstein worked for the NCPAC drive and for the Caputo campaign.
FEC officials said the court can now fine NCPAC for any sum between $5,000 and $73,755, the amount of the alleged violation. NCPAC did not return phone calls. The Associated Press quoted NCPAC political director Sandy Sholte as saying there would be no immediate comment.
In the case involving the NCC, which is closely tied to Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), NCC agreed to pay a $10,000 fine to settle a complaint initiated by Rep. Charlie Rose (D-N.C.) against the North Carolina-based organization.
Rose had complained that a media production firm, Jefferson Marketing Inc., is in fact an arm of the NCC. Rose, in allegations supported by the FEC, charged that Jefferson Marketing was providing below-fair market price services to candidates the NCC endorsed. These below-market services amounted to illegal campaign contributions, according to the charges.
As part of the consent agreement, NCC officials agreed to separate themselves entirely from the operations of Jefferson Marketing. R.E. Carter Wrenn, head of the NCC, contended that the $10,000 settlement amounts to a victory because it ends litigation that could have cost the NCC 10 times that amount.
In addition, he said, the NCC next week will sign a consent decree in a complaint by former North Carolina governor Jim Hunt (D) that the club made illegal campaign contributions to Helms in the Hunt-Helms 1984 Senate contest. In that case, the club will pay a $7,500 fine, Wrenn said.
Rose, who initiated the charges, argued that the consent agreement should result in a reduction of contributions to the NCC because it proves that money was being illegally "laundered."
He claimed victory in the case, but pointed out that successful efforts by the NCC to delay findings until well after the 1984 Senate contest probably helped Helms win reelection.