Dishonest, Dishonorable, and Illegal

The defense team for John Edwards has ended its case, doing its best to convince a jury that their client (who did not testify) may have betrayed his wife, but he did not violate federal law when two of his maxed-out political donors paid off his mistress to try to save his presidential campaign. We will have to wait and see whether they were able to convince the jury, but they have already apparently convinced most of the political pundits in Washington of this legal proposition. The mistress, it is said, was not a campaign expense, so payments to her were not governed by campaign-finance law.

Judging from the facts brought out by the government’s witnesses, though, the pundits are wrong. While this may be an unprecedented prosecution for the Justice Department, it is not a novel issue for the Federal Election Commission. It is true that there has never been a case involving payments to a presidential or vice-presidential candidate’s mistress, but the FEC has looked at the legality of gifts being given to candidates for other offices to pay their personal expenses and those of a mistress. And the money used to pay off Edwards’s personal obligations to Rielle Hunter could be considered campaign contributions that violated the maximum limit allowed under the Federal Election Campaign Act.

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