THE SENATE Republican leadership is advancing a law professor named Bradley Smith for a spot on the Federal Election Commission. Mr. Smith is clearly qualified, having done significant academic work in the area of campaign finance law. In some respects -- such as not having been a party lawyer before joining the commission -- he would be a refreshing change from the party advocates who are usually appointed commissioners.
The trouble with this nomination is that the overall thesis of Mr. Smith's writings is quite radical. He argues that the legal regime governing federal elections, with the exception of disclosure requirements, is an infringement on First Amendment freedoms and a bad, undemocratic idea. His premises, in other words, are contrary to the founding premises of the commission on which he would serve. He simply does not believe in the federal election law.
This would not be the first time President Clinton had placed on the FEC someone whose enthusiasm for campaign regulation was limited. After petitioning the commission to ban soft money, for example, Mr. Clinton named David Mason, though Mr. Mason's writings had argued that soft money could not be constitutionally regulated. But Mr. Smith's writings go further. He argues not merely that additional reforms would offend the Constitution but that the Supreme Court was wrong even to uphold limits on campaign contributions.
If nominated and confirmed, Mr. Smith could presumably be expected to enforce the law as the Supreme Court has interpreted it, not as his law review articles have. But given his belief that nearly all campaign finance regulation is wrongheaded, it is hard to imagine him seeking more robust enforcement. It is more plausible to suspect that he would try to move the law in a direction matching his libertarian views. This may be an honorable exercise on his part, but it is not what the Clinton administration has set out to do. For Mr. Clinton to appoint Mr. Smith would betray every pious utterance the president has ever made about campaign reform.