Controversial FEC Commissioner Exiting

Campaign Finance Reform opponent and controversial FEC Commmissioner Bradley Smith will resign effective Aug. 21 to return to teaching law. His term expired April 30, 2005.

Smith, a Clinton appointee and chairman in 2004, borrowed from another Smith (Adam) in arguing for letting the political bucks flow freely and doing away with all limits on campaign giving.

That of course would potentially have meant many more campaign dollars for broadcasters.

In his book Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform, Smith argued that regulations on political spending violate the First Amendment, a position shared by a number of attorneys, and that those regs diminish the power of the electorate.

Smith concluded that money has "little corrupting effect" on legislators, and argued that politics needed more money, not less.

Not surprisingly, Smith's libertarian views on political spending drew fire from campaign finance reformers who argue just the opposite.

He drew fire from three campaign-finance-advocacy groups last fall, which called on the Federal Election Commission to disqualify then-chairman Bradley Smith from participating in the commission’s review of complaints about Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the organization that funded ads attacking John Kerry’s Vietnam service.

Smith has prejudged his decision, complained the Campaign Legal Center, the Center for Responsive Politics, and Democracy 21 last October. Smith “has long demonstrated his hostility to the campaign-finance laws he is charged with enforcing,” says Larry Noble, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks the effect of money on politics

“Now he has gone even further and publicly embraced the activities of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.” Among the comments angering the campaign finance advocates was an August Bloomberg News interview in which Smith said, “I think it's great [that] 260 average guys can go out and put their point of view out there before the public and influence a major president.On Wednesday, Noble, was politic himself in his comments on the resignation. Noble was general counsel at the FEC, including overlapping for a brief time with Smith's tenure as a commissioner.

"While I do not share Commissioner Smith's views opposing the campaign finance laws he was assigned to enforce," said Noble in a statement, "there is no doubting the intellectual focus and energy he brought to the job."

But Noble was more interested in who would fill Smith's seat, and others. "The announcement of Smith's departure highlights the need for President Bush to turn his attention to the FEC.  With four open seats on the six-member commission, the President now has the opportunity to show he is committed to an agency that stands up for the interests of the public and not just the narrow goals of the politicians and groups it regulates."

Noble put in a pitch for renominating Commissioner and Former Chairman Scott Thomas. "Even as the FEC has become more ineffective and partisan, Commissioner Thomas has remained a voice for meaningful enforcement of the campaign finance laws."