Once again, it’s time for another chat with Ana Marie Cox over at the Guardian, this time focusing on the John Edwards trial. The great Mark Steyn offered a surprising and compelling argument against his prosecution here:
The great English jurist Lord Moulton considered the most important space in society to be the “middle land” between law and absolute freedom, in which the individual has to be “trusted to obey self-imposed law.” That is, a gentleman should not lie for political advantage about the paternity of his child. When he does so, it is a poor reflection on him and on those who colluded with him — the Democratic party and the media. What it is not is a crime. As bad as Edwards’s behavior is, the Justice Department’s is worse. The urge to ensnare in legalisms every aspect of human existence — including John Edwards’s rutting — will consume American liberty.
While I agree with the broad conclusion, I’m not so sure I’m comfortable with leaving this sort of shenanigan, working around campaign finance law by having no money pass through the campaign or the candidate – entirely un-prosecuted. John Edwards needed money to get out of a jam and to help keep his campaign viable. In secret, he (allegedly) arranged for one of his wealthiest fans to give $900,000 to keep Rielle Hunter quiet and hidden.
If a candidate can ask wealthy donors to help him out to the tune of six-figures (or seven!) in a way that leaves no paperwork fingerprints or record with the FEC, then the door is open to functional bribery. This time it’s “pay this amount to help me hide my mistress,” next time it might be “pay this person to make a false accusation” or “pay this person to endorse me” or who knows what else.