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John Edwards vs. The New York Times

Jonathan Prince, deputy campaign manager for John Edwards, sent around a fund-raising email today with the subject, “Haircuts and hatchet jobs.” The “hatchet job” is in reference to this New York Times piece on how Edwards used his non-profit poverty center to raise his profile for a presidential run in 2008. Prince writes today:

P.S. Last week The New York Times ran a story suggesting that it was wrong for John to have spent the last three years raising awareness of poverty and advocating for solutions. As if there’s any way to draw attention to poverty without publicity! And to make matters worse, the reporter just refused to even talk with any of the people who benefited—like any of the 200 young people who got scholarships through the College for Everyone program, or the 700 students who went to New Orleans with John to help rebuild. So we really need your help to get our message out; please, give what you can today.

Well, that’s not exactly what the Times wrote. Here’s the excerpt:

Mr. Edwards, who reported this year that he had assets of nearly $30 million, came up with a novel solution, creating a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of fighting poverty. The organization, the Center for Promise and Opportunity, raised $1.3 million in 2005, and — unlike a sister charity he created to raise scholarship money for poor students — the main beneficiary of the center’s fund-raising was Mr. Edwards himself, tax filings show.

The reporter isn’t questioning the $300,000 raised for this “sister” charity. He’s writing about what Edwards did with the $1.3 million in the main organization and if, in the course of spending the money, Edwards might have run afoul of IRS rules governing 501C-4 non-profits. (A 501C-4 doesn’t pay taxes, but the donations to the company are not tax deductible by the donors. Another example of a 501c-4 organization is CAIR) The Times adds:

But it was his use of a tax-exempt organization to finance his travel and employ people connected to his past and current campaigns that went beyond what most other prospective candidates have done before pursuing national office. And according to experts on nonprofit foundations, Mr. Edwards pushed at the boundaries of how far such organizations can venture into the political realm. Such entities, which are regulated under Section 501C-4 of the tax code, can engage in advocacy but cannot make partisan political activities their primary purpose without risking loss of their tax-exempt status.
Because the organization is not required to disclose its donors — and the campaign declined to do so — it is not clear whether those who gave money to it did so understanding that they were supporting Mr. Edwards’s political viability as much or more than they were giving money to combat poverty.

I wonder, however, if Prince is just a little bit miffed at all of this as the Times actually quotes him in the “hatchet job” piece:

“One of the Center for Promise and Opportunity’s main goals was to raise awareness about poverty and engage people to fight it,” Jonathan Prince, deputy campaign manager, said yesterday. “Of course, it sent Senator Edwards around the country to do this. How else could we have engaged tens of thousands of college students or sent 700 young people to help rebuild New Orleans? It’s patently absurd to suggest there’s anything wrong with an organization designed to raise awareness about poverty actually working to raise awareness about poverty.”
“Of course, some of the people who worked for Senator Edwards in the government and on his campaign continued to work with him to fight poverty and send young people to college,” he added. “Perish the thought: people involved in politics actually trying to improve peoples’ lives.”

Not exactly the kind of quote that turns a reporter off of a story.

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