Four years ago, John Edwards was running for the White House. Now, he’s a defendant in a trial starting today, fighting campaign finance charges that could send him away for as long as 30 years, NPR reports. Melanie Sloan of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics thinks the Justice Department case against him is wrong. “John Edwards is a despicable and loathsome human being, but that doesn’t also make him a criminal,” she says.
Prosecutors accuse Edwards of failing to report nearly $1 million that two old friends and campaign donors funneled through intermediaries to support a lavish lifestyle for his mistress. The donors themselves face no criminal charges. One of them, trial lawyer Fred Baron, has died. And the other — heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, who looked upon Edwards as a sort of romantic hero — is 101 years old. New York University law Prof. Richard Pildes says, “No campaign finance lawyer can tell you they’ve seen any case in which the government comes anywhere close to the extremely aggressive use they’re making here of the idea of a campaign contribution.” Pildes says under this new Justice Department theory, almost anything could be considered a contribution, greatly expanding the legitimate uses of money in politics and confusing people about where prosecutors draw the line.