Sex, Lies and Campaign Donations?

Everyone loves a good underdog story, and here in America we love it even more when the main character works hard, rises above his circumstances, becomes a national darling, and then falls. The bigger and more sensational the fall, the greater the entertainment value.

John Edwards, local boy from North Carolina, has given the drama loving public everything they could ask for. Self-made wealthy, intelligent, and charming, he became a media darling in the Presidential campaign of 2004. As the 2008 campaign neared, a scandal began to stain the young Edwards’ career. The stain is still present, and a jury trial that started today in Greensboro, North Carolina, will either wash the stain out or set it as part of the public’s memory.

Edwards had a campaign videographer named Rielle Hunter. Hunter became pregnant, and word quickly spread that someone in the campaign- perhaps the candidate himself- had fathered the child during an affair. One of Edwards’ aides, Andrew Young, publicly announced himself to be the father of Hunter’s child, even though he has a wife and 3 children. Eventually, in 2010, long after the election, Edwards admitted to the affair and to fathering Hunter’s child.  The Raleigh News and Observer has a more thorough look at the timeline and people involved.

If only that were the end of the matter. Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, lost her battle with breast cancer late in 2010. Once a decent interval of time had passed, criminal proceedings began against John Edwards. Perhaps by people who truly are concerned with the vagaries of campaign finance law, possibly by people looking for a legal way to punish Edwards for his immoral behavior. Whatever the motivation, the criminal charges bring the situation to the trial beginning today.

$900,000 was given to Hunter during her pregnancy, which overlapped with Edwards’ campaign. Money for her care, maintenance, and the child’s care. Money given so that Hunter would be removed from the public eye and no longer cast a shadow over the Edwards campaign.

Now a jury will be gathering information and deciding whether money given to keep a mistress quiet- money that was never given to, or removed from, campaign funds- will qualify as a campaign donation. Was it given to influence the way voters view a candidate? Possibly. Was it given to help a single mother get out of a spotlight in order to have her child in peace? Maybe.

The prosecution opened today. The trial is expected to last about 6 weeks before the jury must decide whether one woman donating large sums of money to another woman, the mistress of a Presidential candidate, rises to the level of campaign finance law violations.

Whatever the outcome, John Edwards seems to have already lost in the court of public opinion.

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