Smith’s breakthrough came in 1996, with the publication of his article “Faulty Assumptions and Undemocratic Consequences of Campaign Finance Reform” in the Yale Law Journal.
In “Faulty Assumptions”, Smith laid out a case against campaign finance regulation, arguing that efforts to regulate money in politics had been based on a series of incorrect beliefs about the effects of money in politics, and that as a result reform efforts had failed to accomplish their objectives and had made many of the problems of money in politics worse. “Faulty Assumptions,” and later articles by Smith, have been cited in numerous recent Supreme Court decisions striking down campaign finance laws on Constitutional grounds, including Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. In 2010 The New York Times called Smith the “intellectual powerhouse” behind the movement to deregulate campaign finance. The importance of “Faulty Assumptions” lay in its blending of existing political science research with legal and constitutional theory. Before “Faulty Assumptions”, most legal scholarship on campaign finance had followed a narrative that assumed the corruptive and anti-egalitarian effects of large campaign contributions and spending, and had then focused on the creating a legal regime to control those effects and justify regulation against First Amendment claims recognized by the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo. At the same time, these articles largely ignored a growing literature in political science based on empirical studies of campaign spending and regulatory regimes. Smith’s contribution was to bring these two arms of scholarship together, blending the growing body of empirical data to the constitutional and legal principles laid out elsewhere. The result was to challenge the very foundation of campaign finance reform in both politics and constitutional law. Smith’s analysis forced proponents of reform to rethink many basic assumptions, or at least to justify them against his critique.
.. Smith also wrote Unfree Speech: The Folly of Campaign Finance Reform, a book published by the Princeton University Press in 2001. By the time Unfree Speech was published, both Smith and his campaign finance scholarship had become something of a Rorschach test for attitudes about campaign finance. The book met with near universal praise among opponents of regulation, such as columnist George Will, who called it “the Year’s most important book on governance,” and condemnation from supporters of regulation, with journalist Eliza Newlin Carney lambasting it as “facile and boggling.” Scholars, including the British political scientist Michael Pinto-Duschinsky were more balanced and generally complimentary, but by the time of publication Smith had been appointed to the Federal Election Commission and the book was largely reviewed as a political tract, rather than as the scholarly manuscript Smith presumably intended.
.. The Brennan Center for Justice, a harsh critic of Smith’s work, nevertheless recognized him as “the most sought after witness” to make the case for deregulation of campaign finance before congressional committees.
.. Because of his contrarian, deregulatory views on campaign finance, there was a strong objection to his nomination from reform advocates.
The libertarian magazine Reason noted that virtually all reform advocates “agreed that he was the wrong person for the job”. His nomination, however, received support from supporters of deregulation of campaign finance, such as the Cato Institute.
.. After leaving the FEC, Smith returned to teaching at Capital University and founded a non-profit organization, the Center for Competitive Politics to promote deregulation of campaign finance.