As November draws ever closer, all attention is on the US presidential campaign. People are familiarizing themselves with the platforms, reading the daily news, and in some cases, volunteering behind their favored candidate. Yet an event currently transpiring in North Carolina is adding a sinister undertone to the presidential race. I am talking about the corruption trial of John Edwards.
Edwards ran for the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. He is known for his stance supporting benefits for the middle class as well as his role as a supportive husband during his wife Elizabeth’s battle with cancer. However, his kindred, easy-going, and sincere image has been overturned recently when it was discovered that he fathered a lovechild immediately prior to his 2008 democratic run and, equally disturbing, that he used donor funds to hide his mistress from the press and public while she was pregnant.
The main players in the Edwards scandal were two wealthy donors, Rachel ‘Bunny’ Mellon and Fred Baron. Additionally, Edwards’ former aide, Andrew Young, played a large role in hiding the mistress, Rielle Hunter. It is speculated that Edwards took over $725,000 from Bunny and $200,000 from Baron. Young’s role in the story is as the middle man. He would accept money from the two donors (both of whom were unaware of the contributions of the other), place them in his wife Cheri’s bank account, and from that point use them as he saw fit. Although Young saw to the travel and accommodation costs of Ms. Hunter, he also revealed that some of the money had been embezzled to finance the building of his own home. When the press started to catch on to the Edwards story, Young claimed Ms. Hunter’s child was his own and diverted media attention for a time.
The allowance for a contribution to a presidential campaign under the Election Act is $4,600. The hundreds of thousands of dollars Edwards procured well exceed this amount. As such, here is a list of the counts he was indicted for:
1) Conspiracy: Edwards knowingly and willingly conspired with others in his team to receive and hide the contributions made by Baron and Mellon. In addition, Edwards hid this information with the larger group involved in his campaign, leading to the filing of false financial reports with regard to his campaign.
2, 3, 4, 5) Illegal campaign contributions: Separate counts for the years 2007 and 2008 under the two donors Baron and Mellon.
6) False statements: John Edwards concealed information from his committee causing them to file incorrect Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports.
The jury has been asked to consider counts 2-6 prior to making a judgment on the first count, since it encapsulates all of the proceedings. As the jury completes its fourth day of deliberations, it is important to look over the case made by the defense to see whether or not Edwards is truly guilty.
Firstly, the defense makes a distinction between a ‘campaign contribution’ and a ‘personal donation,’ stating that the aid provided by the two donors was outside of the realm of the Federal Election Commission. They add that the misused money is largely the fault of Andrew Young, who neglected to inform John Edwards of all the details. Finally, the defense is trying to play on the heartstrings of the jury, claiming that Edwards was not committing this act out of a selfish need to keep his campaign alive, but rather in order to protect his dying wife Elizabeth from humiliation and emotional turmoil during her last days.
The construction of the jury is, as always, pertinent to the final verdict delivered. It consists of seven women and nine men. They are middle class across the board and some come from the town where Edwards grew up. Additionally, there are six African Americans on the jury. According to former prosecutor Kieran Shanahan, ‘the defense went out of their way to talk about John Edwards commitment to poverty… I don’t want to say they were pandering, but at least making sure the jury knew those facts.’ Although it seems like John Edwards has a favorable jury, the federal judge, Catherine Eagles, reminded the jury that protecting his campaign didn’t have to be the main reason that he took the money, but a reason nonetheless for them to be able to deem he was a conspirator.
This has been an interesting case, with a two day defense, very few witnesses, and particular attention paid to the fine line between personal donations and income for campaigns. Hopefully this case will set a precedent against illicit finances for the upcoming election.
A biography of John Edwards can be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Edwards
John Edwards’ indictment is located at http://media2.newsobserver.com/smedia/2011/06/03/10/edwardsindict.source.prod_affiliate.156.pdf