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GOPAC Seeks To Curb Federal Questioning Of Big Donors

August 31, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A political action committee closely aligned with House Speaker Newt Gingrich is seeking a court order to curb questioning of its big donors by Federal Election Commission attorneys.

Lawyers for the committee, GOPAC, filed a motion in U.S. District Court last week seeking an injunction to keep FEC lawyers from questioning the PAC’s charter members, those who have contributed at least $10,000.

FEC spokesman Ian Stirton said Thursday the agency is questioning contributors to find out what they know about GOPAC’s mission and how they expected their donations would be used.

The FEC filed suit last year contending that GOPAC had violated federal election law when it failed to register with the FEC in 1989 and disclose its finances after launching a mail campaign aimed at defeating Democrats in Congress.

The FEC asked GOPAC to pay a $150,000 fine and admit it violated the law. The committee refused, arguing that the mail solicitation was general in nature and not directed at influencing any specific federal campaign. The FEC, which has no authority to levy fines, then filed the lawsuit.

During preparations for the trial of that lawsuit, FEC lawyers began contacting GOPAC charter members earlier this month. GOPAC attorneys then asked the court to halt such questioning, claiming it was irrelevant and was damaging the committee’s fund-raising.

U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman held a hearing Wednesday on GOPAC’s request for an injunction and said he hoped to rule by the end of this week.

According to the lawsuit, GOPAC spent $280,812 to mail 798,742 letters in 1989 and 1990 soliciting money to help defeat Democrats in Congress. The letters resulted in $275,710 in contributions.

Federal election law requires that any organization spending more than $1,000 to influence federal elections must register within 10 days as a political committee and begin filing financial disclosure reports with the FEC.

The lawsuit accuses GOPAC of three specific violations of election law _ failing to register as a political committee in a timely manner, failing to file the required disclosure reports and failing to disclose on the solicitation letters that they were paid for by GOPAC.

Each violation carries a fine of $5,000 or the total amount involved in the violation. An FEC spokesman said the total involved the violations alleged against GOPAC was $556,522, the amount spent and raised by the committee.

Gingrich, who was general chairman of GOPAC from the mid-1980s until he stepped down in May, has credited the group with helping to lay the groundwork for the GOP takeover of Congress. He signed the solicitation letters cited in the FEC lawsuit.

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