Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Average, Middle-Class Citizens

this is an audio post - click to play

Federal Elections Commission Chairman Bradley Smith has resigned his post at the FEC to return his teaching position at Columbus, Ohio's Capitol University. A long-time opponent of checking the flow of money into American elections, Smith recently sat down with the National Review's Byron York for one last interview before heading back to Ohio.

When he was nominated by Senators Trent Lott and Mitch McConnell to the FEC, Smith's opposition to campaign finance regulation was well known. His anything-goes approach to money in politics jibed so well with his sponsors' views that they were willing to sign off on sixteen of Pres. Clinton's judicial nominations in exchange for Smith's confirmation to the FEC. In today's heated political climate, it is almost impossible to imagine anything worth sixteen judicial confirmations, but the deal was struck and Smith was in.

True to form, Smith argued against the 2002 Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act ("forcefully and persuasively" according to York) because it tried to limit the massive, unlimited donations ("soft money") that were pouring into the political parties to influence elections. And when rich folks started evading BCRA with 527s, the billionaire-financed groups that poured hundreds of millions of dollars into smear campaigns against Kerry and Bush in the 2004 elections, Smith led the charge to allow the George Soros's and T. Boone Pickens's of the world to dominate America's presidential election with their cash.

When asked about one 527 group, Smith tells York: "I think it's a great thing that a bunch of average, middle-class citizens like the guys at Swift Boat Veterans for Truth can influence an election." The problem is, while the Swift Boat Vets may have been middle-class, its top three donors were three Texas multi-millionaires Bob Perry ($4,450,000), Harold Simmons ($3,000,000) and T. Boone Pickens ($2,000,000).

In other words, Smith thinks the rest of us should be able to influence an election . . . as long as some billionaires agree with us.

Smith's statement highlights a problem for those who oppose campaign finance reform - 99% of Americans can't afford to pony up thousands of dollars in political contributions. So, people who want a person's wealth to determine his political power have to dress up their arguments against campaign finance reform in rhetoric that appeals to the vast (albeit shrinking) middle class. Thus, the words Brad Smith leaves us with as he rides off into the sunset make about as much sense as the words he rode into town on.

Smith has it right that average, middle-class folks should be able to influence elections. And that is why he is so wrong on nearly everything else.

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