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HOME / ENFORCEMENT MATTERS / ADMINISTRATIVE FINE PROGRAM / HOW THE PROGRAM WORKS

How the Administrative Fine Program Works

Overview

Prior to initiating the Administrative Fine Program (AFP), the FEC handled reporting violations (late filers, nonfilers and committees that failed to file 48-hour notices) under the same enforcement procedures it employs for other alleged campaign finance violations. Under the AFP regulations, if the Commission finds “reason to believe” (RTB) that a committee violated the law, the Commission will send a letter to the committee containing the factual and legal basis of its finding and the amount of the proposed fine. This letter will be sent to the committee and its treasurer at the address listed on the committee’s most recent FEC Form 1, Statement of Organization.

The committee will have 40 days from the date of the RTB finding to either pay the fine or submit to the Commission a written challenge, with supporting documentation, explaining the reasons why it believes the Commission’s finding and/or fine is wrong. If the committee submits a challenge, it will be forwarded to an impartial reviewing officer—someone employed by the FEC who was not involved in the original RTB finding.

If the committee does not submit a challenge within the 40 day period, the Commission will then issue a final determination with the appropriate fine. The committee will then have 30 days to pay the fine or seek judicial review of the Commission’s final determination through a U.S. district court in the area where the committee or treasurer resides or conducts business.

How to Submit a Challenge

Committees may challenge the RTB finding and proposed fine by submitting a challenge with supporting documentation to the Office of Administrative Review within 40 days of Commission's RTB finding. Committees should carefully review the requirements of the three permissible defenses before submitting a challenge, because the committee bears the burden of showing that a permissible defense is satisfied.  A committee’s challenge must be based on one of the following permissible grounds to be considered by the Commission’s reviewing officer:   

The challenge must also explain, in detail, the factual basis for the challenge.  The Commission strongly encourages committees to submit their documents in the form of affidavits or declarations, because these forms are generally given more weight and credibility. 

The rule change for the “factual errors” defense does not create new defenses but simply recognizes the types of errors that the Commission has previously accepted as defenses in the AFP.  The “extraordinary circumstances” defense is replaced by the “best efforts” defense.  The revised rule states that the committee used best efforts to file in a timely manner if it:

The Commission included some examples of circumstances that will and will not be considered “reasonably unforeseen” and “beyond the control” of the committee for purposes of this “best efforts" defense.  Circumstances that will meet the “best efforts” defense include:

Circumstances that will not meet the "best efforts" defense include:

You should also review the regulations on the three defenses found at 11 CFR 111.35.

After reviewing the Commission’s RTB finding and the committee’s written challenge, the reviewing officer will forward a recommendation to the Commission.  This recommendation will include the original RTB finding, the committee’s written challenge and any supporting documentation received from Commission staff or the committee. A copy of the recommendation will also be sent to the committee and treasurer, who will have 10 days to submit a written response to the reviewing officer’s recommendation. The Commission will then make a final determination as to whether the committee violated 52 U.S.C. § 30104(a), and if so, assess a fine based on the published schedules used to calculate the fines.

You should also review the regulations on the challenge process found at 11 CFR 111.35, 111.36, and 111.37.

Challenges should be submitted in writing to:

            Office of Administrative Review

            Federal Election Commission

            999 E Street, NW

            Washington, DC 20463

Covered Reports

Most reports that committees are required to file are covered under the AFP.  This includes semi-annual, quarterly, monthly, pre-election, 30-day post-general and special election reports, as well as 48-hour notices that candidate committees are required to file for elections in which the candidate participates.

How to Calculate Fines

Four factors are used to calculate fines.  They are: 

Election Sensitivity

Some reports are considered election sensitive because they are due right before an election.  These include the October Quarterly and October Monthly Reports due in even-numbered years and all pre-election reports.  Other reports such as the Mid-Year and Year End Reports are considered not-election sensitive.  There is a fine schedule for election sensitive reports found at 11 CFR 111.43(b) and another fine schedule for non-election sensitive reports found at 11 CFR 111.43(a).  

Late or Not Filed

An election sensitive report is late if it is filed after the due date but more than four days before the election.  It is considered not filed if it is not filed more than four days before the election.  Here are two examples using Tuesday, May 18, as the date of the primary election.  If the pre-election report is filed on Thursday, May 13, the report is considered late.  If the pre-election report is filed on Friday, May 14, it is considered not filed. 

A non-election sensitive report is late if it is filed after the due date but no later than 30 days after the due date.  It is not filed if it is filed more than 30 days after the due date.  Here are two examples using the Year End Report’s January 31 due date.  If it is filed on February 9, the report is considered late.  If it is filed on March 28, it is considered not filed. 

Level of Activity

For authorized (or candidate) committees, the level of activity is the total receipts plus total disbursements on the report filed late.  For unauthorized committees (for example, PACs or parties), the level of activity is the total receipts plus total disbursements minus allocable activity reported on Lines 18(a) and 21(a)(ii) of Form 3X.  If the report is not filed, the level of activity is estimated using prior reports filed by the committee during the current or prior two-year election cycle. 

Number of Prior Violations

Prior violations are the number of times that the committee was assessed a fine in the AFP during the current two-year and the prior two-year election cycles.  Each prior violation increases the amount of the fine by 25%. You should also review the regulations for the fine schedules found at 11 CFR 111.43.

Fine Calculation for 48-Hour Notices

The calculation of fines for committees that fail to file timely 48-hour notices is $110 for each nonfiled notice plus 10% of the dollar amount of the contributions not timely reported. The fine increases by 25% for each time a prior fine was assessed under the AFP during the previous and current two-year election cycles.  You should also review the regulations for 48-hour notice fine calculations found at 11 CFR 111.44.

Also see Examples of How to Calculate Fines and AFP Penalty Calculator.

How to File Suit

Within 30 days of its receipt of the final determination letter, the committee and its treasurer can file suit in the U.S. District Court in which the committee or treasurer resides or does business.  Note that the failure to raise an argument in the administrative (challenge) process in a timely manner is deemed a waiver of the committee’s or treasurer’s right to present that argument to the District Court.  Please see 11 CFR 111.38.   

How to Pay a Fine

You may remit payment by ACH withdrawal from your bank account, or by debit or credit card through Pay.gov, the federal government's secure portal for online collections. Make a payment through Pay.gov.

Penalties may also be paid by check or money order made payable to the Federal Election Commission.  Payments should be sent by mail to:

            Federal Election Commission

            PO Box 979058

            St. Louis, MO 63197-9000

If you choose to send your payment by courier or overnight delivery, please use this address:

            U.S. Bank - Government Lockbox

            FEC # 979058

            1005 Convention Plaza

            Attn:  Government Lockbox, SL-MO-C2GL

            St. Louis, MO 63101

How Unpaid Fines are Collected

Unpaid civil money penalties assessed under the AFP are subject to the Debt Collection Act of 1982 ("DCA") as amended by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996 ("DCIA"), 31 U.S.C. § 3701 et seq.  When a respondent fails to pay the fine, the Commission may transfer the case to the U.S. Department of the Treasury ("Treasury") for collection.

Treasury currently charges a fee of 28% of the civil money penalty amount for its collection services.  The fee will be added to the amount of the civil money penalty.  Should Treasury’s attempts fail, Treasury will refer the debt to a private collection agency ("PCA").  If the debt remains unpaid, Treasury may recommend that the Commission refer the matter to the Department of Justice for litigation. 

Actions which may be taken to enforce recovery of a delinquent debt by Treasury may also include:  (1) offset of any payments, which the debtor is due, including tax refunds and salary; (2) referral of the debt to agency counsel for litigation; (3) reporting of the debt to a credit bureau; (4) administrative wage garnishment; and (5) reporting of the debt, if discharged, to the IRS as potential taxable income.  In addition, under the provisions of DCIA and other statutes applicable to the FEC, the debtor may be subject to the assessment of other statutory interest, penalties, and administrative costs.

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