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Published on Wednesday, February 23, 2000
Clinton's Campaign Finance Betrayal:
The Wrong Man For the Job
by Fred Wertheimer

Would an individual who believes the nation's drug laws are unconstitutional and should be repealed be appointed to head the Drug Enforcement Agency?

No way.

Would the United States Senate confirm an individual with these views to be the nation's chief drug law enforcement official?

Absolutely not.

Then, what in the world is Bradley Smith's name doing pending in the Senate for confirmation to serve as a Commissioner on the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Mr. Smith - who has stated that the nation's campaign finance laws are unconstitutional and should be repealed - was nominated by President Clinton to serve on the FEC, the agency responsible for enforcing the nation's campaign finance laws.

That's the same President Clinton who is a "self-proclaimed" supporter of campaign finance laws and campaign finance reform.

The Smith nomination was dictated by Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott and Senator Mitch McConnell, the leading Senate defenders of the corrupt campaign finance status quo in Washington, and Smith's two leading advocates for the Commission job.

The President lamely explained his nomination of Smith, a fierce opponent of campaign finance laws, by saying he was just following custom to cede to the other major party the ability to name three of the six FEC Commissioners. In fact, however, when the Republicans held the White House, President Reagan had no problem rejecting a FEC nominee of the Democrats that he found to be objectionable.

So what are the potential consequences of Clinton's campaign finance betrayal if the Senate proceeds to confirm Smith to serve on the Commission?

Well, here is what Mr. Smith has said about the nation's campaign finance laws: "The most sensible reform is a simple one: repeal of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA )."

And here is what Mr. Smith's "reform" would accomplish: repeal of the ban on corporate contributions to presidential and congressional candidates, repeal of the ban on labor union contributions to federal candidates, and repeal of the limits on contributions from individuals and PACs to federal candidates.

Mr. Smith's "reform" would also repeal the system for financing our presidential elections, the ban on officeholders and candidates pocketing campaign contributions for their personal use, the ban on cash contributions of more than $100, and various other provisions enacted to protect the integrity of our democracy.

Mr. Smith has also stated that the federal campaign finance law, known as the FECA, is "... profoundly undemocratic and profoundly at odds with the First Amendment."

Mr. Smith publicly rejects the Supreme Court's corruption rationale, which has been at the heart of numerous Supreme Court decisions upholding the constitutionality of campaign finance contribution limits and prohibitions.

According to Smith, "Money's alleged corrupting effects are far from proven."

Mr. Smith's view that the FECA, and its contribution limits and prohibitions, are unconstitutional directly conflicts with the Supreme Court's position.

Just last month, for example, the Supreme Court reaffirmed in Nixon v. Shrink Missouri PAC that individual contribution limits are constitutional.

The Court cited "the prevention of corruption and the appearance of corruption" as the basis for its decision, the same rationale that Smith dismisses, and rejected Smith's view that campaign contributions represent protected free speech.

Justice Souter writing for six of the nine Justices, including Chief Justice Rehnquist, stated, "Leave the perception of impropriety unanswered and the cynical assumption that large donors call the tune could jeopardize the willingness of voters to take part in democratic governance."

Mr. Smith, it goes without saying, is entitled to hold and express whatever views and philosophy he may have about campaign finance laws.

It should also go without saying, however, that the American people are entitled to have law enforcement officials who believe in the validity and constitutionality of the laws they are statutorily responsible for enforcing, and who do not view these laws with total disdain and hostility.

"The Washington Post" noted in a June 6, 1999 editorial that Smith's premises "are contrary to the founding premises of the commission on which he would serve. He simply does not believe in the federal election law."

The New York Times wrote in a July 13, 1999 editorial that Smith's stated positions "make plain that his agenda as a commission member would be a further dismantling of reasonable campaign limits intended to curb the corrupting influence of big money rather than serious enforcement of current campaign finance laws."

Mr. Smith is the ultimate symbol of a breakdown in law enforcement when it comes to the nation's campaign finance laws. His confirmation to be an FEC Commissioner would be an insult to the American people.

United States Senators should not allow this to happen.

Fred Wertheimer is the president of Democracy 21.


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