WASHINGTON (Jun. 22)
The Federal Election Commission’s decision to drop a case against the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has come as welcome relief to the pro-Israel lobby, which had been accused of violating FEC regulations.
FEC commissioners voted unanimously last week to close the case, deciding that the regulations in question were too vague and should be rewritten.
AIPAC officials, who had denied any wrongdoing from the outset, hailed the action as a vindication of their position.
At issue in the case, initiated by opponents of AIPAC in 1989, was the lobby’s dissemination of information about political candidates “in a manner which suggests persons support the candidates financially or otherwise,” according to a letter reportedly sent by the FEC to AIPAC in February.
By a vote of 4-2, the commissioners determined last week that there was probable cause to conclude AIPAC had violated a regulation barring corporations from engaging in such activities.
Probable cause is not a finding of wrongdoing, but is a procedural step that would have enabled the commissioners to negotiate a conciliation agreement with AIPAC.
AIPAC had notified the commissioners, however, that under no circumstances would it agree to any finding of wrongdoing, sources said.
Its position was that as an “incorporated membership organization,” it was entitled, under an FEC exemption, to “communicate with its members on any subject, including partisan electioneering messages,” as long as it did not directly encourage political contributions.
‘A WELCOME VINDICATION’
Recognizing that the case would be difficult and time-consuming to prove, the commissioners’ decided to halt further action and redraft the regulations.
There was a question as to whether there was “enough of a regulatory basis for the finding to justify pursuing the case,” said Sharon Snyder, FEC assistant press officer.
Ultimately, the commissioners opted to review and clarify the regulations to avert future problems, said Snyder.
AIPAC officials were clearly pleased with the decision.
“The commission’s determination to close the file on these baseless allegations is a welcome vindication of AIPAC, and it reaffirms the constitutional right of our members to participate in the democratic process,” the organization said in a statement.
FEC commissioners also voted unanimously to dismiss another complaint in the case that suggested AIPAC should be registered as a political action committee because of its political activities.
In December 1990, the FEC dismissed yet another complaint that AIPAC was coordinating the activities of dozens of pro-Israel PACs. Federal law bars collusion among political action committees.
The various complaints were initiated in January 1989 by eight longtime critics of Israel, including former U.S. Rep. Paul Findley (R-I11.). Their case was supported by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Last week’s decision is the final ruling in the case.