Ruth Marcus has an op-ed out that is so reflective of Beltway thinking and so wrong that it just shouldn't be allowed to stand as the final word.
But being a jerk, even on an Edwardsian scale, is not a felony, which is what federal prosecutors have been pursuing for more than two years. The original theory of the case was that Edwards misused campaign funds to support his mistress, Rielle Hunter. That would have been a serious matter, except the theory fizzled.
Yes, that theory fizzled largely because large donors, like Fred Baron and Rachel Mellon decided to pony up the funds to keep Rielle Hunter out of sight and out of the media's eye. They only did that for one reason: To keep Edwards' primary bid alive. To that end, they spent nearly one million dollars.
Marcus thinks that's not a felony.
Even if you were to conclude that the payments to Hunter constituted impermissible campaign contributions, there is the more serious question of whether criminal prosecution is the appropriate remedy. A single advisory opinion hardly seems like adequate notice that funneling money to Hunter could land Edwards in prison.
I am bipartisanly squeamish about the criminalization of politics; I have been as critical of a (Democratic) Texas district attorney’s prosecution of former House majority leader Tom DeLay on money-laundering charges as I am about the threatened Edwards indictment.
As is just about everyone in Washington DC. Campaign finance disclosure? Hell, no. Corporate contributions directly to candidates? Sure, why not?
The problems in Washington relate directly to campaign finance. It's driven home over and over and over again. When Republican congressmen whine about the national debt and de-fund piddly little green energy initiatives while voting down repeal of oil and gas subsidies, it's because their campaign bids are supported by those oil and gas companies. When Democrats water down financial regulation or delay health insurance reform, it's because of the pressure put on them by the same wealthy interests.
So being bipartisanly squeamish about campaign finance, which does not criminalize of politics but does identify corrupt politicians, is a comfortable place to be, but it's erosive to democracy.
This kind of thinking in one of the most respected publications for national politics just drives me crazy. What would have happened if Edwards' affair with Hunter had not been discovered by the press and he'd gone on to win the nomination and the election. Would those wealthy donors have simply said, oh well, mission accomplished, and it only cost one million? Marcus never takes her thinking to the next step, to the implications of what it really means to have a few wealthy donors in charge of a secret and financing the coverup.
Yes. It is likely criminal. I have no issue with the DOJ's recommendation. I simply wish they would exercise the same kind of principled thinking on issues like John Ensign and Tom Coburn's payoffs to Ensign's mistress, Wall Street thuggery, bank fraud, and other areas where wealthy donors wield far more influence.