The friends of John Edwards

The Washington Post includes a PDF of the indictment of John Edwards in its story on the case. Can federal campaign finance law properly be used against Edwards for the sizeable payments made to him by Person C (Bunny Mellon) and Person D (Fred Baron)? The question seems to me more appropriate for a law school exam exploring the outer limits of campaign finance law than for testing in the real world.
Mrs. Mellon wanted to provide financial assistance to John Edwards, but she did so in a circuitous manner. Mrs. Mellon made payments amounting to some $725,000 in the form of checks made out to “a friend,” who forwarded them to the wife of the Edwards aide who served as the middleman directing funds to the support of Edwards’s mistress.
According to the Los Angeles Times, quoting Mrs. Mellon’s attorney, Mrs. Mellon intended the payments as a personal gift to Edwards and filed a gift tax return. However, the indictment quotes a note from Mrs. Mellon stating that the funds were to defray expenses for “all haircuts,etc. that are necessary and important for [Edwards’s] campaign. . . .It is a way to help our friend without government restrictions.”
Baron also made his payments in a circuitous and deceptive manner. According to the indictment, he attempted to conceal the specific purpose of the payments, amounting to about $200,000. As with Mrs. Mellon’s funds, Baron’s payments went to support the personal expenses of Edwards’s mistress.
Why wasn’t Mrs. Mellon indicted for conspiring with Edwards to evade campaign finance laws? The facts set forth in the indictment seem to support such a charge. To say the least, however, Mrs. Mellon is not an attractive target. She is an idealistic 100-year-old woman who dotted her i’s and crossed her t’s insofar as the tax laws are concerned. Moreover, she didn’t know that she was supporting Edwards’s mistress with her “Bunny money,” as Edwards called it. Mrs. Mellon was herself a victim of Edwards.
Fred Baron presents a somewhat different case. It seems to me that he would have been vulnerable to criminal prosecution on a number of grounds. Unlike Mrs. Mellon, he seems to have known precisely what he was doing and would have presented an appealing target. But there is one big problem with the case against Baron. He’s dead.
That leaves the case against Edwards, such as it is. It seems to me that the case against Edwards raises one big question: What is the over/under on the number of months before Edwards is offered his own CNN show? I say 30 months.
UPDATE: I add a few thoughts in “The friends of John Edwards: Tax notes.”

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