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Opinion John Edwards’ legal troubles a sticky situation

George HasaraNew news about old news is like reheated coffee – it doesn’t have the same flavor as fresh brewed. Case in point: John Edwards’ legal problems concerning campaign fraud. His story can’t compete with riveting reports involving Congressman Anthony Weiner’s postings of private parts or actor Charlie Sheen’s antics. Nevertheless, there are still lessons to be learned by going over old ground.

My skepticism of former presidential hopeful John Edwards began back in 2007 when his taste for expensive haircuts was revealed. A $400 clip had an amusing double meaning to it. However, that particular extravagance would have been inconsequential if Edwards had not been in the the habit of touting his simpatico with the “common man.” Sure, everyone spends a week’s pay on a trim.

The well-coiffured Edwards now faces federal indictments involving the alleged receiving of illegal campaign contributions. Edwards has insisted that he did not break the law. Of course, he also insisted that he didn’t have an affair or father a child with his mistress. Edwards may not have been a very good spouse, but he is a fine lawyer, so he might be on the money this time around.

The Feds tenuous case rests on the ability to demonstrate that private (unreported) donations that were used to cover up Edwards extramarital activities were, in fact, campaign contributions.

In a general sense, blocking unfavorable information could be construed as helping a candidate. In a legal sense, the prosecutors will be hard-pressed to link hush money as campaign money.

The government’s backup plan is the added charge of conspiracy. If they can show that Edwards planned with others in receiving close to a million unreported dollars for the benefit of his presidential election campaign, then apparently there is a case. If he only wanted to protect his family (code for covering his own keister) then he’s in the clear.

However, the man implicated as paying off Edwards’ mistress is dead and wealthy contributor Bunny Mellon who offered to cover the tab on those expensive haircuts (as well as other contributions) is now 100 years old. She’s not exactly the kind of person you gain points by grilling on the witness stand.

The indictment of Edwards is part of the perpetual shell game known as campaign finance reform laws. We sense that elections are paid for and bought by the highest bidder, particularly when our candidate loses the election. Various laws have been enacted over the years that invariably lead to yet more campaign finance laws being written to counter what the previous laws didn’t address, and so on and so on.

If only we could figure out a way to level the election playing field, then some kind of golden age of politics would emerge – or so the theory goes. The idea of free elections, as in the sense of not being purchased, is a noble ideal and maybe there is a way to get there. For now, our government could save money it doesn’t have and drop the charges against John Edwards — granting him the permanent status of “old news.”


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