Today the Department of Justice announced that they were dismissing all charges against John Edwards. Last month a North Carolina federal jury found Edwards not guilty on one charge, and deadlocked on the remaining five charges, in Edwards’ public corruption trial.
No matter how many sordid details about Edwards’ despicable conduct as a husband were thrown at them, the jury just didn’t think the evidence was there. To convict of public corruption, the prosecution had to show not only did a wealthy benefactor give money to John Edwards’ mistress, but that John Edwards new about those payments and intended them to influence the outcome of the election.
To many, including me, the John Edwards case seems like a misguided prosecution. I think of campaign finance laws as designed to protect the citizens against politicians on the take. My concern is that our democratically elected leaders would answer not to the many, but the few, the few who financed their election. The John Edwards prosecution never did anything to protect the fairness of the electoral process.
This is not the first time that the prosecution of a public official has had the appearance of overreaching. Prosecutors from the elite Public Integrity Unit of the Department of Justice were suspended recently for their willful failure to turn over exculpatory evidence during the trial of former Alaska senator Ted Stevens.
But mostly prosecutors from the public corruption unit seem irrelevant. Individuals, and, now, thanks to the Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision, corporations, can give as much money as they want to elect a candidate as long as the money is given to a group “independent” of the candidate. That is a loophole that any K Street operative can jump through. Unless the law changes (which is unlikely because the Supreme Court has characterized spending money in support of a candidate as First Amendment speech), government prosecutors won’t be cracking down on corrupt elected officials because their behavior will be perfectly legal.