The effort to prosecute former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC), who was indicted today in North Carolina, likely would chart new legal territory because campaign-finance violations generally result in civil fines from the Federal Election Commission and do not end up in criminal court, says USA Today. Did he break the law? Veteran prosecutors and campaign-finance experts say the answer is not clear-cut.
The question is whether hundreds of thousands of dollars two wealthy political supporters provided to hide Edwards’ mistress amounted to gifts or illegal campaign donations. Under federal law, individuals could not contribute more than $4,600 to a candidate in the 2008 election, when Edwards last sought the presidency. “If it was given as hush money to prevent the eruption of a scandal that would disturb his campaign, then you can treat it as a campaign contribution,” says law Prof. Richard Briffault of Columbia University. “But if it was just seen as a personal matter to help him out in dealing with a difficult personal matter, then it was a gift.”