WHEN THE Supreme Court recently reaffirmed that reasonable campaign finance regulations were constitutional, President Clinton sought to portray himself as a fighter for reform. "For years I've challenged Congress to pass legislation that would ban the raising of unregulated 'soft money' [and] address back-door spending by outside organizations," he said. "Now I am again asking Congress to restore the American people's faith in their democracy and pass real reform this year." This week, however, the president nominated to the Federal Election Commission a law professor, Bradley Smith, who not only opposes further reform but believes that most existing campaign finance law violates the First Amendment. Quite simply, Mr. Smith doesn't believe in the bulk of the FEC's work. Mr. Clinton has no business putting him in charge of it.
The White House blames its indefensible decision to appoint Mr. Smith on the Senate Republicans who advanced his name. Traditionally, the president appoints some commissioners suggested by the congressional delegation from the opposing party. "We spent a long time trying to get another name out of them," White House spokesman Joe Lockhart says. "We certainly don't support this guy, but they would not move on another name, and we have about 70 judges we're trying to get through."
The judicial nominations are a real problem, and as if to emphasize the linkage, two judicial nominees were suddenly confirmed yesterday. But Mr. Clinton's pretending that he is somehow not responsible for his own appointments won't wash. Whatever traditions may exist, the Federal Election Commission is part of the executive branch--and the president does not have to appoint people he doesn't want. Mr. Smith, to his credit, does not back away from the arguments he has made, and there is little doubt that, on the commission, he would oppose robust enforcement of campaign finance laws. From a president who shared this approach, his appointment would be understandable. From President Clinton, it is yet another betrayal of his pious expressions of support for campaign finance reform.
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