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Court Ruling Allows Federal Prosecution of Campaign Violations Before FEC Action


By FZ - Posted on 03 January 2011

A federal appeals court says the U.S. Department of Justice does not need a referral from the Federal Election Commission before prosecuting campaign finance violations.

The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit means federal prosecutors can investigate alleged criminal violations of federal campaign finance laws without waiting for the FEC to act.

The opinion is consistent with other rulings in cases where targets of campaign finance prosecutions claimed they should not be subject to criminal charges unless the FEC first considered their cases.

The FEC has authority to bring civil enforcement cases for campaign finance violations and to refer such cases to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Courts have consistently held - as the Ninth Circuit just did - that Justice officials can still prosecute even if the FEC has not voted on the matter.

"We hold again today ... that the Attorney General need not obtain permission from the FEC before investigating or prosecuting possible violations of federal election law," reads the decision, which was written by U.S. Circuit Judge Barry Silverman and joined by Circuit Judges Richard Clifton and Milan Smith.

The most recent ruling focused on the case of Marcus v. Holder, in which Jon Marcus claimed he was the target of a politically motivated Justice Department investigation of alleged campaign finance violations.  

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