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Monday, June 11, 2012

Too Many Are John Edwards-Like in World Of Politics." YEP!

Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial | Too many are John Edwards-like in world of politics

John Edwards is guilty of something, but apparently not breaking federal election laws.

A North Carolina jury found him not guilty of one charge of campaign-finance fraud and deadlocked on five others. But anyone who paid attention to his six-week trial knows Edwards is at least guilty of being immersed in a rotten culture where politicians think nothing of using donated money for personal expenses.

Two donors spent almost $1 million to help Edwards conceal his pregnant mistress from his dying wife and the public during his 2008 presidential campaign. The charade was continued even after he dropped out of the Democratic primary and fantasized about being appointed attorney general. But the money didn’t wash through his campaign account, so he wasn’t guilty of violating campaign-finance laws.

The whole sordid episode should prompt Congress to pass legislation requiring candidates to report large gifts, including the no-show and low-show jobs some take to support themselves during campaigns. When politicians accept favors from “friends,” the public needs to know who those friends are and what they might want from the politician.

Details of the lengths Edwards took to conceal his affair are salacious. But more disturbing is how the case showed the ease with which politicians suck up to the rich and powerful in search of campaign cash and skip over ethical lines without breaking a sweat.

Some critics question why the Justice Department even pursued this case. The people who anted up the money to keep Rielle Hunter hidden couldn’t have been expected to testify. Fred Baron died in 2008, and Rachel “Bunny” Mellon is 101 years old.

But just because a case might be tough to tackle doesn’t mean the government shouldn’t try to go after politicians who blithely forget their responsibilities to the public, try to cover up their misdeeds, and then, when caught, use strained rationalizations and technical loopholes to get off. A federal grand jury is looking into whether former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, had donors spend $250,000 to hush a woman who had threatened to file a sexual harassment suit against him. The ex-wife of Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois complained to the Federal Election Commission that he hid campaign-fund payments to a girlfriend.

Both the Kirk and Richardson cases may sound like “Jerry Springer Show” episodes, but they more importantly suggest how politicians find ways around election laws to cover their sleazy behavior.

The gray area between what is legal and what isn’t is too broad. That breadth allowed Edwards to slither right into the gray that led to last week’s mistrial.

“While I do not believe I did anything illegal or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong,” Edwards said to the cameras. Of course, he was not the least bit specific about that “awful, awful lot that was wrong.”

It gets old listening to unctuous politicians like Edwards say they broke no laws and then see them show contrived remorse as if that excuses their bad behavior. Americans want to expect more from their leaders. They want them to be honest, but too many, like Edwards, fail that test.

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