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James V. Lacy

What to make of John Edwards? Political love children don’t jive well with campaign finance rules.

The liberal Campaign Legal Center says former Democrat Vice-Presidential nominee and former U.S. Senator John Edward’s indictment on corruption charges “paints a troubling picture,” that raises the “specter of political influence peddling in the form of ‘gifts’ to candidates in high stakes campaigns.”  Edward’s friends helped pay-off the mother of his secret out-of-wedlock love child while he was running in the presidential primaries, and federal prosecutors see that as secret and excessive and therefore illegal contributions to his failed campaign for President.  There are other related claims of criminality.  But even then the Campaign center complains of delays in prosecution, a feeble FEC enforcement posture, and urges broader actions including against former U.S. Senator John Ensign of Nevada, who is alleged to have arranged employment in exchange for silence in connection with a sex scandal.

Reports in the New York press and from Europe suggest that friends of the disgraced former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the “champagne socialist” who was on his way to what might have been a successful Presidential run  in France, have made contact with the African family in remote Guinea of the maid he allegedly sexually attacked at a swank hotel in New York City a few weeks ago, and that payoffs may be in process to affect her testimony in a brewing rape prosecution of Strauss-Kahn.  Everybody involved there ought to be very careful.  There is a lot more potential downside there than a saucy tweet from Congressman Weiner.

Edwards situation differs from Ensign, Strauss-Kahn, and Weiner because there is a child involved — his!  And having acknowledged the child, it is normal that he would be expected to make child support arrangements.  What is unique in the Edwards case is that the initial child-support arrangements appear to have violated Federal Election Commission campaign finance rules because they occurred while he was an office-holder and candidate for president, and those arrangements really didn’t involve his own money.  (Perhaps this is further evidence that there should be no wonder as to why he was creamed in the Vice-Presidential debate by Dick Cheney.)

What are we in California to make of John Edward’s situation?  We need look no further that our own last Governor, and his own out-of-wedlock love child.  I really don’t relish pointing out the similarity of circumstances, but I could now see, after the Edward’s indictment has been announced, how serial detractors of Arnold Schwarzenegger might be boosted by the thought that Arnold himself might have violated California Fair Political Practices Commission or other rules in connection with support for that innocent child.  But as I think about it, I have much more sympathy for Arnold than Edwards.  There is very likely nothing Arnold did wrong – from an election finance standpoint – in his situation.  He paid all the bills, we think, he is entitled to fund his own campaign for Governor under state rules at any level, therefore any payments he made for what could be considered “child support” would not matter, and it would be ridiculous to think any such payments would need to be “reported” on FPPC forms.  Financially there is no comparison.  The larger question, however, is about a separate criminal statute that Edward’s faces.  It involves payment of what would commonly be called “hush money.”  To be criminal, “hush money,” is about paying someone to not report a violation of law.  It is a somewhat circular argument in the Edwards case but payments to not report that a person is receiving payments that should be considered campaign contributions could articulate a “hush money” crime.  That is the Edward’s case.  In the Arnold case, payments directly from him to the mother of the out-of-wedlock child that might imply “hush money” would definitely not be a crime because Arnold can give as much money as he wants to his own campaign.  Rather, if there was a “hush,” it was about avoiding embarrassment to everyone involved.  Including the little boy.  And that is sad, but logical.  In any event, Arnold’s situation is not Edward’s situation and pundits or political hacks that say otherwise are full of baloney.  But there is no question that love children do not jive well with campaign finance rules.

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