When The Post condemned the hold Sens. Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell placed on Richard Holbrooke's U.N. ambassador nomination, which is tied to President Clinton's failure thus far to nominate Bradley A. Smith for a GOP spot on the Federal Election Commission ["Bad Hold in the Senate," editorial, July 8], it didn't note the baseless attacks on Mr. Smith that explain the presidential failure. The New York Times called Mr. Smith's potential nomination an "insult." Columnist Al Hunt dubbed him "unfit" and "radical" -- the last repeated by The Post.

Demonization is not uncommon in Washington, but it's absurd in this case. A 41-year-old law professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and a Cato Institute adjunct scholar, Mr. Smith is one of the nation's foremost experts on campaign finance. Courts regularly cite his voluminous scholarly writings. Even The Post conceded he's "clearly qualified."

His crime, it seems, is challenging the assumptions driving today's campaign finance debate. Most "reforms," he's shown, have made the system worse -- forcing candidates into more fund-raising, entrenching incumbents, disabling political amateurs and grass-roots activists, and reducing political accountability. But above all, regulations have eroded First Amendment rights.

What's needed, he argues, is freedom and sunshine -- deregulation and full disclosure. But that undercuts the regulatory gospel of "good government" reformers such as Common Cause, Democracy 21 and the Brennan Center for Justice. Their June 3 press release and open letter to President Clinton denounced Mr. Smith as "not fit to serve" because of his "radical" views. It also opened a debate over who is the "radical," and a number of prominent experts have sprung to Mr. Smith's defense.

Brooklyn Law's Joel Gora, general counsel of the New York Civil Liberties Union, notes that "far from being `radical,' Smith's views have prevailed in the courts far more often than [those of his] `reform' opponents." The FEC, pursuing the radical theories of the Common Cause crowd, has lost 11 of its last 12 federal appellate cases. Thus, what frightens "reformers" is that Mr. Smith, on the FEC, won't be radical enough, won't pursue the radical theories courts have consistently rejected. Until now, they've dominated the FEC and debate in the media, whose relative power would be vastly increased by further restrictions on the rest of us. He's a threat to that dominance, which is why they've forced a "hold" on his nomination.

ROGER PILON

Vice President for Legal Affairs

Cato Institute

Washington