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Common Cause v. New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission

Decided: July 29, 1977.

COMMON CAUSE, RESPONDENT,
v.
NEW JERSEY ELECTION LAW ENFORCEMENT COMMISSION, APPELLANT, AND BATEMAN FOR GOVERNOR COMMITTEE, INTERVENOR-APPELLANT



For affirmance -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Sullivan, Pashman, Clifford and Schreiber. For reversal -- None.

Per Curiam

[74 NJ Page 233] Litigants in this case have asked us to consider the validity of a regulation adopted by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission pursuant to the authority vested in it under the Campaign Contributions [74 NJ Page 234] and Expenditures Reporting Act, N.J.S.A. 19:44A-1 et seq. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-38. Respondent Common Cause argues that the regulation in question, N.J.A.C. 19:25-15.36, is impermissibly broad in scope and conflicts with both the express language and purpose of the act.*fn1 It asserts that the regulation conflicts with (1) the clear mandate of the statute by allowing a successful primary candidate who elects not to receive public funds to accept contributions in excess of $600 for the purpose of paying primary campaign debts, and (2) the express terms of the statute by providing that it shall not apply to primary election expenses incurred in connection with the primary held this year. Intervenor, Bateman for Governor Committee, has advanced other arguments which are discussed herein. We are satisfied that the regulation impermissibly

exceeds the scope of the authority vested in the Election Commission.

This matter was initially heard before the Appellate Division. R. 2:5-1(e). Although that court denied the motion by Common Cause to stay application of the regulation, it did grant its request to have the appeal accelerated. R. 2:9-2. Leave to intervene was granted to the Bateman for Governor Committee. R. 4:33. Although notified of the appeal, the Citizens for Byrne Committee elected not to intervene in the suit.

The Appellate Division held in a per curiam opinion that the regulation was illegal and void. 151 N.J. Super. 265. (1977). After finding that Common Cause had standing to contest the provision, it noted its agreement with each of the respondent's arguments which had been asserted as a basis for holding the regulation invalid. We granted certification, 75 N.J. 23 (1977). Because of the public interest in resolving this dispute as quickly as possible, we have similarly heard this case on an accelerated basis, foregoing oral argument. R. 2:11-1(b).

We conclude that respondent has standing to raise the issues presented by this appeal. Common Cause, a nonprofit corporation of the District of Columbia, asserts that one of its major purposes is making government more responsive by reforming the political process. It alleges that it has over 12,000 dues-paying members in New Jersey whose interests it purportedly represents in this suit. In Crescent Pk. Tenants Assoc. v. Realty Eq. Corp., 58 N.J. 98 (1971), this Court considered the problems of standing with respect to a nonprofit association. Writing for the Court, Mr. Justice Jacobs concluded that standing was appropriate "where the litigant's concern with the subject matter evidenced a sufficient stake and real adverseness." 58 N.J. at 107. Applying that test, he found that the complaint filed by the tenant association there was "confined strictly to matters of common interest and [did] not include any individual grievance which might perhaps [have been] dealt with more appropriately

in a proceeding between the individual tenant and the landlord." Id. at 109. Similarly, we conclude that the impact of the instant regulation on respondent's membership and its declared interest in improving government provides it with a sufficient basis for claiming standing to contest the Commission's action. See also United States v. SCRAP, 412 U.S. 669, 93 S. Ct. 2405, 37 L. Ed. 2d 254 (1973); Scenic Hudson Preservation Conf. v. Federal Power Comm., 354 F.2d 608 (2 Cir. 1965), cert. den. sub nom. Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Inc. v. Scenic Hudson Preservation Conf., 384 U.S. 941, 86 S. Ct. 1462, 16 L. Ed. 2d 540 (1966); Common Cause v. Democratic National Committee, 333 F. Supp. 803, 808-09 (D.D.C. 1971).

Turning to the merits of the controversy, we first consider the proviso which excepts winning candidates who elect not to receive public funds from the $600 limitation on post-primary contributions for the purpose of defraying primary expenses. Although the regulation prohibits by its terms post-primary contributions in excess of $600 for the purpose of paying off primary election expenses of a winning candidate, it adds that this provision "shall not be applicable in the case of a winning candidate who has elected not to receive public funds." It is contended that this provision conflicts with the $600 limit on contributions embodied in N.J.S.A. 19:44A-29(b), which provides:

No person or political committee, except the State committee, county committees and municipal committees of any political party, otherwise eligible to make political contributions, shall make any contribution or contributions to a candidate, his campaign treasurer, a State committee, county committee or municipal committee of any political party, or to any other person or committee, in behalf of the winner of a primary election for the office of Governor in the aggregate in excess of $600.00 for any purpose after the date of such primary election. No candidate for election to the office of Governor in a general election who has won the preceding primary election. and no campaign treasurer or deputy campaign treasurer of such candidate shall knowingly accept from any person or political committee, except the State committee, county committees and municipal committees of any political party, any contribution or contributions

in the aggregate in excess of $600.00 for any purpose after the date of such primary election. [Emphasis added].

Intervenor, on the other hand, argues that the clear intent of the Legislature was to regulate only campaign contributions to the general election. Although agreeing with appellant Commission that the Appellate Division erroneously interpreted N.J.S.A. 19:44A-29(b), it urges us to hold that the act makes no provision for contributions associated with primaries. Consequently, it would presumably leave contributions to be utilized for paying off primary debts totally unregulated, regardless of whether or not a candidate was receiving public funds.

Admittedly, both the express wording of the statute and its legislative history demonstrate that the primary thrust of the act was aimed at regulating contributions in general elections. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-28 specifically provides:

The provisions of this act shall apply to the general election campaign for the office of Governor to be held in November, 1977 and to all subsequent campaigns for election to the office of Governor, except that the provisions of this act shall not apply to any general election campaign for the office of Governor for which the Legislature fails to make an appropriation.

Moreover, the expression of public policy embodied in the act also indicates that the Legislature was concerned with the conduct of general elections when they passed the instant statute. N.J.S.A. 19:44A-27 states:

It is hereby declared to be a compelling public interest and to be the policy of this State that general election campaigns for the office of Governor shall be financed with public support pursuant to the provisions of this act. It is the intention of this act that such financing be adequate in amount so that candidates for election to the office of Governor may conduct their campaigns free from improper influence and so that persons of limited financial means may seek election to the State's highest office.

And lastly, we note that the legislative history surrounding the passage of the act uniformly indicates ...


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