Robert J. Samuelson ["So Much for Free Speech," op-ed, Aug. 25] said that the McCain-Feingold law "blatantly violates" the First Amendment and that the Supreme Court has created an artful distinction that doesn't work when it is applied to organizations known as 527s. He also said that campaign finance laws breed disrespect for the Constitution.

Anyone can look at the First Amendment, as Mr. Samuelson did, and make the superficial claim that McCain-Feingold infringes on the rights the amendment grants. But if it were that easy, then Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other challenging McCain-Feingold would not be looking at multimillion-dollar legal bills.

Mr. Samuelson also did not acknowledge that the troublesome 527 regime is in part a product of regulations promulgated by political appointees on the Federal Election Commission and not wholly the product of Congress and the Supreme Court.

Many problems with campaign finance law can be traced to the 1976 decision Buckley v. Valeo, in which the Supreme Court created the constitutional distinctions Mr. Samuelson glossed over or ignored. Most notably, the court made its fateful assumption that speech equals money for the purposes of the First Amendment.

Surely Mr. Samuelson isn't arguing that the First Amendment protects the sort of corruption inherent in the quid pro quo of political contri- butions.

We can disagree on how far the government can go in regulating money and speech in the campaign finance system, but we should all agree that the system needs regulating.

Campaign finance law, like democracy itself, is messy and constantly evolving. These issues are far more complicated than Mr. Samuelson let on and deserve a more informed and reasoned debate.

JAMES GAGEN

Arlington