Election Law @ Moritz

Commentary...

Recent Opinion Articles

Edward B. Foley
Free & Fair is a collection of writings by Edward B. Foley, one of the nation's preeminent experts on election law.

Weekly Comment

Goodbye Mr. Smith, and Welcome Back to Ohio

Print Page

July 26, 2005

Please Note: The next Election Law @ Moritz Weekly Update will not be sent out until September 6, 2005.

Next month, Bradley Smith is leaving the Federal Election Commissioner after six years of dedicated service and returning to the law faculty at Capital University where he taught before becoming a Commissioner. There will likely be no speeches in Washington thanking him for his contribution to the democratic system we hold so dear. But he deserves those thanks nonetheless.

Mr. Smith was vilified in Washington from the moment of his nomination. Mr. Smith's academic scholarship prior to his appointment indicated that he was a strong opponent of campaign finance regulation. He appeared to support a laissez-faire approach to regulation, and campaign reformers saw it as ridiculous that an opponent of campaign finance law would be appointed to the FEC. It was the classic case of the fox guarding the hen house, they said.

But it is just because of his opposition to major campaign finance reform (he would say regulation), that Mr. Smith was a valuable member of the Commission. Mr. Smith made those of us suggesting further regulation consider those suggestions carefully before proceeding.

Mr. Smith stood true to his academic view that further campaign finance regulation was unnecessary, and he was often the bane of the reform community. While some of us believe Mr. Smith is wrong in his view that major reform was not necessary, it should be no surprise that he has been consistent in that view throughout his tenure. Even when further regulation was supported by his party and his President, Mr. Smith held firm that further regulation, especially in the middle of the election, was problematic. He proved himself to be what we must hope for in our public servants, a man of integrity, who stood firm for what he believed despite considerable political pressure.

In an era when politics has invaded the internet and the potential regulation of political bloggers raises thorny questions about where the risk of corruption becomes too attenuated and the interference with political freedom becomes too great, even the most ardent pro-regulation campaign finance reformers should appreciate Mr. Smith's cautionary perspective. Yet, as Mr. Smith returns to Ohio , and its current problems with "pay-to-play" scandals, we look forward to his thoughts on whether disclosure suffices to protect against corruption.

Ultimately, however, as Mr. Smith makes this transition back to academia, what is most important to remember is that he passionately served his country to promote a system of democracy that he loves. For that, we owe him our thanks. Thank you Mr. Smith, welcome back to Ohio.