WASHINGTON - The Federal Election Commission has closed a six-year investigation into alleged campaign-law violations by Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., saying it had evidence of illegal activity but had run out of time to prosecute.
The case was one of several the agency closed because of concern that too much time had passed since the alleged violations occurred. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that the election commission cannot impose penalties for offenses more than five years old.
Toyota spokesman Robert Wade said all that matters is that the case is closed. He noted that Toyota had maintained 'there were no willful violations of the law.'
The election commission voted in November to attempt conciliation with Toyota and the Automobile Dealers and Drivers for Free Trade Political Action Committee, an import-dealers' group also known as Auto PAC.
The commission normally seeks conciliation only when it believes it has enough evidence to penalize a person or organization for violations, but wants to resolve a case without filing suit.
In the Toyota case, the commission staff found evidence 'that, beginning in 1982, Toyota, using its corporate structure, solicited funds for, first, (Auto PAC) and then, to a lesser extent, for (AFIT-PAC),' according to a Federal Election Commission general counsel's report made public on June 13.
AFIT is the Americans for Free International Trade PAC, formed in 1991 by a group of import auto dealers who had become disaffected with Auto PAC.
The commission said it also had 'reason to believe' that election law violations were committed by other parties to the investigation, including the Americans for Free International Trade PAC and the American International Automobile Dealers Association.
But the FEC never sought conciliation before deciding to close the cases, although it did send AIADA an admonishment letter.