Comment and analysis on all things Charlotte

John Edwards: Illegal Cad?

Or. Since when is douchebaggery a federal felony?

Stick with me on this, as looking at John Edwards in a remotely even-handed manner does not come easily. On a moral karma level, the Breck Girl deserves everything he is getting — maybe even federal PMIA prison. However, relentless pursuit of schadenfreude is not a republican virtue. Our legal system once twisted to serve our basest Nelson Muntz desires will not easily spring back to protect those of us who are not kept boys of eccentric heiresses.

So — what exactly did John Edwards do wrong? The federal indictment nutshelled says that Edwards took $925,000 in mostly Bunny Mellon money and did not report it to the FEC. Leaving aside the specifics of how federal bureaucrats would handle the line item “baby mama” were someone to report such a thing, recall that the initial rumors surrounding Edwards’ supposed wrong-doing were that he had diverted campaign cash to support his ditzy squeeze. That did not happen — which the feds simply take as prima facie evidence that Edwards intended to violate the law by not reporting Bunny’s money as campaign cash.

Further, prosecutors construct a simple test for determining if money received by a federal candidate for office should be reported to the FEC: If the money helps the candidate in any way. Specifically:

The purpose of the conspiracy was to protect and advance EDWARDS’ candidacy for the President of the United States by secretly obtaining and using hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions…to conceal EDWARDS’ extramarital affair…EDWARDS knew that public revelation of the affair and pregnancy would destroy his candidacy by, among other things, undermining EDWARDS’ presentation of himself as a family man and by forcing his campaign to divert personnel and resources away from other campaign activities…

In other words, all money is campaign money when it comes to once and future candidates who have operated under the constraints of campaign financing rules. OK. The secret word is fungible. But if that is the standard, then what do we do with the likes of Wild Bill Clinton and the Austrian Oak?

They used public dollars (via public employees and facilities they controlled) to hide their extramarital affairs and protect their “presentations.” This has to be a greater affront to civic order — and to crusading US Attorneys not otherwise occupied with the War on Sudafed — than the use of private resources to the same end. Right?

Indeed, every pol uses a “conspiracy” to advance an image of themselves that does not wholly conform to reality. The resources used to represent themselves to the public usually — but not always — can be traced to campaign cash. Various contributions are made to a candidate’s image via personal relationships and mere proximity. Is everything which makes a candidate look good then a reportable in-kind contribution?

But back to Edwards. More than anything I am having a hard time understanding why it was wrong for John Edwards to take money from Bunny Mellon but perfectly acceptable for him to take cash and benefits from UNC-Chapel Hill. The trumped up, made up Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity my alma mater provided Edwards between February 2005 and December 2006, specifically.

It was widely understood that the position of center director (annual state salary $40,000, funded by private gifts to UNC) and the entire multi-million dollar edifice itself was created solely to keep Edwards’ political career kicking in the wake of the 2004 election cycle. The association with UNC in turn permitted Edwards to set up non-profits which expressly aided him in his “presentation” to the public, to the tune of millions of dollars.

Here, let those crazy kids at the NYT explain, from 2007AD:

John Edwards ended 2004 with a problem: how to keep alive his public profile without the benefit of a presidential campaign that could finance his travels and pay for his political staff.

Mr. Edwards, who reported this year that he had assets of nearly $30 million, came up with a novel solution, creating a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of fighting poverty. The organization, the Center for Promise and Opportunity, raised $1.3 million in 2005, and — unlike a sister charity he created to raise scholarship money for poor students — the main beneficiary of the center’s fund-raising was Mr. Edwards himself, tax filings show. …

…Because the organization is not required to disclose its donors — and the campaign declined to do so — it is not clear whether those who gave money to it did so understanding that they were supporting Mr. Edwards’s political viability as much or more than they were giving money to combat poverty.

The money paid Mr. Edwards’s expenses while he walked picket lines and met with Wall Street executives. He gave speeches, hired consultants, attacked the Bush administration and developed an online following. He led minimum-wage initiatives in five states, went frequently to Iowa, and appeared on television programs. He traveled to China, India, Brussels, Uganda and Russia, and met with Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and his likely successor, Gordon Brown, at 10 Downing Street.

“He was not a U.S. senator; he had no office,” said Ferrel Guillory, a political program director at the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina. “So he set up a series of entities to finance his travel, to finance a political shop and to finance an issue shop. It all adds up to a remarkable feat of keeping a presidential candidacy alive without any of the traditional bases for it.” …From 2005, when he established them, through 2006, the committee and the soft money organization raised $2.7 million, most of which paid for travel and other activities that helped Mr. Edwards maintain his profile.

And those millions raised to aid Edwards’ were just as secret as Bunny’s funny money as the contributors were not disclosed to the public. Disclosure is a linchpin of the prosecution’s contention that the public was harmed and the law violated by the semi-secret support system for Edwards’ mistress and his love child.

The takeaway seems to be that bald-faced lying to the public is acceptable, but banging the wrong, fertile hippie chick you meet in a hotel bar is a stain on your mortal soul and more than a little embarrassing to fellow members of the North Carolina bar.

And I think that says more about the demons and foibles of federal prosecutors up in Winston-Salem than it does about John Edwards.

Update: Rut-roh. Even the Today show is spreading the word.

Update II: Oh look, someone recalling how the Poverty Center was bereft of values.

12 Responses to “John Edwards: Illegal Cad?”

  • Jun
    05
    2011

    Well said, Jeff.

    But for me it boils down to the fact that at the time he took Bunny’s money, he was a candidate — and as you point out, all money is fungible. A dollar given to him for one purpose (e.g., paying off Rielle Hunter) frees up a dollar for another purpose (e.g., campaigning). As long as you are a candidate for political office and you’re accepting donations to fund your campaign for that office, you better keep as clean as Caesar’s wife.

    Besides, isn’t it against the law for one person to gift another person more than about $11K or $12K per annum, without reporting it as taxable income? Seems to me that if Johnny Boy didn’t declare the money he got from Bunny, that he’s guilty of conspiring to evade income taxes — the same thing Al Capone was busted for.

  • Jun
    05
    2011

    clayj,

    Good point about the gifts, but to my knowledge, Edwards didn’t get the money (except for the $10 large Baron put in the envelope — Ancient Chinese Secret, eh?). It went to intermediaries who spent it on Baby Mama. In fact, Baron rented a house for her. And even if all the cash went to Edwards, Baron and Bunny could have filed amended tax returns, paid penalties and interest, and no prosecution would have been necessary.

    The fungibility is the key to the federal case, of course. But if this prosecution succeeds, every candidate who does not self-finance now becomes a criminal suspect, because the candidate’s employer clearly is keeping the employee’s political career viable.

  • Jun
    05
    2011

    Clay

    I’m with you on the taxes. I can’t believe they didn’t file any failure to pay taxes charges because it sounds like that’s what they can get him on.

  • Jun
    05
    2011

    We’re not really going to let “Hey, no one handed ME any money” be an excuse, are we? Any halfway-decent prosecutor should be able to shoot that down in about five seconds — if someone commits a criminal act on your behalf (and at your assumed behest), it’s the same as if you did it yourself. It’s called a conspiracy. For Edwards to try to claim ignorance, when everyone involved was either working for him or giving him money, is simply ludicrous.

    And I think one can make a good argument that one’s salary should be immune to any fungibility argument — that’s regular income, it’s taxed and tracked, etc. It’s these under-the-table and in-the-restroom, off-the-books envelopes full of cash and checks that are the problem here.

  • Jun
    05
    2011

    >> every candidate who does not self-finance now becomes a criminal suspect, because the
    >> candidate’s employer clearly is keeping the employee’s political career viable.

    Pat McCrory on line one (asking for money).

  • Jun
    06
    2011

    Ah yes, Pat McCrory. Moore & Van Allen is his Bunny Mellon.

  • Jun
    06
    2011

    Leave John alone yoouse guys,

    The pressure of being a multi millionaire and a new daddy were to much for him.

  • Jun
    06
    2011

    The indictment also documents the “laundering” that occurred by Andrew Young and his wife (taking the checks, depositing them into the Young’s joint checking, endorsed with Mrs. Young’s maiden name, and then written to the Edwards campaign).
    I think this might be the issue. The money was “washed” through the campaign coffers.
    For the life of me, I don’t know why the Donor C and Donor D contributions weren’t just made to a bank account that Hunter could access. As the indictment says, the checks used things like “furniture” on the Memo Line. So, the intent of fraud was already evident. Why send it through the campaign?

  • Jun
    06
    2011

    I think it goes back to the fact that Young was the only guy Edwards trusted — which seems worse judgement than hooking up with the Star Child. Maybe the feds can indict him for that too.

  • Jun
    06
    2011

    I made a lot of money betting on Sea Hero to win the Ky Derby (Gr 1) in 1993. SH was owned and bred by Paul and Bunny Mellon. I used to see them in Aiken. Nice folks. If you ever visit the Hateras National Sea Shore or the national gallery of art in DC, say thanks to the late Mr. Paul Mellon.

    Pat McCory has a great gig at MVA. Remember how he used to look down his nose at the small business’ on South Blvd and call them part of a “corrider of crap.” I guess Mayor McCory could not figure out why these small biz owners could not just get a no show-gold brick job at Duke Power or MVA.

    I guess I am a dumb dumb, but could someone please tell me how NC would be better off with pat as gov, instead of bev.
    Gotta go, Mrs. Rick wants to go for a boat ride.

  • Jun
    06
    2011

    “Boat ride” — nudge-nudge, say no more squire!

    This is why so many fear and envy you.

  • Jun
    06
    2011

    From Update II:

    >> the Center on Poverty existed to facilitate discussion of the underlying
    >> issues of poverty, not to assist in the alleviation of poverty

    I smell the Susan J. Komen Doctrine.

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