Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Following are remarks given Nov. 3, 2000, by Joseph Lehman, executive vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, at the Mackinac Center's annual Scholars Summit. Mr. Lehman introduced Mackinac Center adjunct scholar and Federal Election Commissioner Bradley Smith, the keynote speaker at the event.  

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I left Midland last year for Washington and the chance to work with the great folks at the Cato Institute. Now I'm back at the Mackinac Center to play a new and larger role in moving Michigan forward toward greater liberty and prosperity.

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One of the best things about my role at Cato was being responsible for getting good media coverage for Cato. And one of the people who made that the easiest for me was Bradley Smith, our keynote speaker. I was in charge of getting the media to notice that Brad was being sworn in as a member of the Federal Election Commission at a special ceremony at the Cato Institute.

How the Senate got President Clinton to nominate Brad to the FEC is a long story. But the media did notice.

You see, it's not every day that President Clinton nominates someone and the New York Times calls it "an insult."

It's not every day the president nominates someone who Al Hunt of the Wall Street Journal calls "unfit" and "a radical."

Someone the Washington Post also calls "unfit" and "a radical."

Someone the Atlanta Constitution calls a "flat earth society poobah."

Someone the Syracuse (New York) Post-Standard likens to "David Duke, the Unabomber, and Slobodan Milosevic."

Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell—who Paul Gigot of the Wall Street Journal has called a "national piñata"—and this is one of Brad's friends in Washington—said Brad is more of a piñata than he is.

Welcome to Washington, Mr. Smith.

Bradley Smith did what Senator McConnell called "the impossible": Making the general public aware that there is a Federal Election Commission.

Bradley Smith's research finds that today's laws that severely limit financial contributions to political candidates have the effect of severely limiting political speech—a hallmark of our civil liberties—with little or no offsetting benefit.

But why do the media rail against our friend Brad Smith? It's not just that Brad is the first Mackinac Center scholar the president has nominated to a federal post.

No, the problem is that Brad's conclusions on campaign finance do not sit well with the news and entertainment media, who have no problem with laws that limit your campaign contributions. You see, if you are forced to spend less, then the media's role as Grand Gatekeeper of Information on Candidates is just that much more important.

Why is that? Because you are restricted in what you can give to your favorite candidate so he can spend it to get out his message, but there is no restriction on the media about how many Doonesbury cartoons they print, how many hours of Rush Limbaugh they broadcast, or how many editorials they write. You get limits. They don't.

First amendment defenders that they are, the media are therefore reduced to arguing that a limit on political contributions is not the same as a limit on speech.

I wonder if there were a law that limited the budgets of CBS, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, would they change their minds and decide that money does equal speech?

When Congress passed major amendments to the federal campaign finance laws in 1974, it was probably one of the few times that Congress passed a law that actually worked the way they hoped it would.

The restrictions passed under those amendments have helped entrench the two-party system, helped squelch serious third-party opposition, and, not coincidentally, helped maintain a Congressional incumbent reelection rate around ninety-eight percent.

But now Brad's on the FEC. He's actually got to enforce these laws! But he will do so with a stronger commitment to individual liberty and respect for the law than perhaps anyone who has ever served on the commission.

We know that because of Brad's record here, with us.

Brad is the author of the very first Mackinac Center study that we published way back in 1987. In the study, he called for the state to sell its worker's comp insurance agency, called the Accident Fund.

To a lot of people, it seemed "radical." But good ideas often sound that way at first. The State of Michigan did sell the Accident Fund in 1994. At that time, it was the largest sale of any state-owned asset in history, and it happened because Brad Smith was the first to say that it should happen.

Brad has done more great work over the years for the Mackinac Center as an adjunct scholar, but we have had to share him with others.

Brad is an attorney and was a professor of law at Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, until he moved to Washington this year.

Before he joined the faculty there in 1993, he practiced law in Columbus and served as United States Vice Consul in Guayaquil, Ecuador. He was General Manager of the Small Business Association of Michigan, where he managed its political action committee.

He received his B.A. cum laude from Kalamazoo College, and his J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School.

And it is our privilege to welcome the Honorable Bradley A. Smith, and his wife Julie, here this evening.

Bradley Smith is author of the book Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform.

"Bradley Smith's research finds that today's laws that severely limit financial contributions to political candidates have the effect of severely limiting political speech--a hallmark of our civil liberties--with little or no offsetting benefit."