A contrarian argument against current efforts to reform campaign-finance regulations, arguing that such efforts are counterproductive—and often unconstitutional.
Smith (Law/Capital Univ.) opens with a tongue-in-cheek account of his recent appointment (by Bill Clinton) to the Federal Election Commission, an appointment Al Gore opposed and other politicos likened to nominating Larry Flynt or Slobodan Milosevic to public office. Smith had earned their ire by insisting, in scholarly journals and op-ed columns, that campaign-finance regulations often infringed on the free-speech provisions of the Constitution by regulating political discourse. Here, he amplifies these arguments, urging a laissez-faire approach to campaign contributions. He cites, among other instances of what he perceives to be infringement, FEC regulations that demanded that Steve Forbes pay his own magazine for publishing columns he produced while campaigning in nationwide Republican primaries, arguing that “as a candidate, Steve Forbes had fewer rights under the First Amendment than he did before declaring his candidacy.” Smith scoffs at the notion that big-money contributors have undue influence over the candidates they support once those candidates take office, and he insists that those contributors speak for many citizens, not just the donors. He argues that when the government sets funding limits on political campaigns, it does so at levels that practically guarantee victory to incumbents—who, after all, already have name recognition and the power of office behind them—at the expense of newcomers. Many of his arguments are counterintuitive, if supported by a raft of documentation. Whether Smith’s arguments are correct or not, his timing is unfortunate, given the current widespread perception that something is rotten in the American electoral process—and the news that $100,000-plus donors to the Bush campaign were awarded special access at his inauguration.
An interesting argument, but one that is unlikely to alter the political climate.