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Washington Watch

Foe of Campaign- Finance Law To Leave FEC

Bradley Smith, the controversial Federal Election Commission commissioner and opponent of campaign-finance restrictions, said he will resign Aug. 21 and resume teaching law at Capital University
in Columbus, Ohio. Smith’s term expired April 30, but he has been able to remain at his post because no replacement has been named.

Smith, appointed by President Clinton in 2000 to a Republican FEC seat, drew intense criticism from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other authors of the 2002 campaign-finance–reform law for speaking out against it even after it was upheld by the Supreme Court. McCain once called Smith “bullying and cowardly” for berating a witness testifying before the FEC.

McCain’s anger intensified last summer when the FEC ruled that controversial attack ads by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and did not violate the 2002 law.

Smith’s views on campaign- finance limits were well-known before he joined the commission. In his book Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform, he argued that regulations on political spending violate the First Amendment and the power of the citizens to influence elections.

Unlike McCain, Smith sees “little corrupting effect” on legislators from financial campaign contributions and argued that politics needed more money, not less.

Despite his reservations about the rules he was charged with enforcing, Smith insists he never wavered in his duty to uphold them.

“In the last three years,” he points out, “we have assessed the highest penalties ever against a sitting senator, an incumbent House member, a party congressional-campaign committee, and a state party committee, which was also the largest penalty assessed against a registered committee of any kind.”

Broadcasters Face Terrorist Threat

Sen. John McCain launched a public-relations campaign against TV stations, warning they could be blamed in part for future terrorism casualties if they do not give up their old analog channels, portions of which are slated to be turned over to fire, police and other emergency departments.

At a Capitol Hill press conference, McCain and the mothers of two 9/11 victims said communications problems between New YorkCity rescue workers played a role in preventing the rescue of hundreds killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

McCain called the press conference to unveil legislation that would force broadcasters to return their old analog channels to the government Jan. 1, 2009, years sooner than current law requires. Broadcasters have not committed to a deadline.

A chunk of that returned spectrum will be used to alleviate the frequency shortage plaguing emergency workers’ communications. The shortcomings of emergency communications were detailed in the 9/11 Commission’s report in 2004. Mary Fetchet, president of Voices of September 11, says her son Brad might have survived the collapse of the second World Trade Center tower had communications snafus not prevented him from learning that there was an open stairwell after the plane hit the second tower. “I believe his death could have been prevented,” she says.

FCC Solicits Payola Complaints

The FCC is making it easier for viewers to complain when they suspect TV stations are violating the ban on payola.

At the urging of Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who has been pressing the agency to crack down on stations that don’t tell viewers when they receive compensation for airing programming, the commission’s Web site now includes a payola fact sheet with instructions for filing complaints.

Right off the bat, media activist group Free Press took up Adelstein’s offer. The group is asking the FCC to widen its investigation beyond conservative pundit Armstrong Williams’ PR contract to promote the White House’s No Child Left Behind education policy on cable TV.