You wouldn't know it to listen to some of the calls to “let John Edwards go,” as if he's an unjustly held captive of a capricious public opinion. Some even say prosecuting the serial liar would “do more harm than good.”
But John Edwards symbolizes exactly what's wrong with our political system — the public's disgust, distrust and weariness of the whole mess. They know the politicians aren't playing straight with them, and it's high time the system work in the public's favor for a change.
John Edwards cheated on more than just his wife; he cheated the American public. And for that, he should be prosecuted.
“John Edwards, whose trial for campaign finance violations begins Monday, got some unusual support from the ultra-conservative National Review, which editorialized against the prosecution of the former Democratic senator and presidential running mate,” Richard Hasen wrote for Slate.com.
But even Hasen (and National Review) acknowledge what John Edwards did; he accepted nearly $1 million from wealthy donors to hush up his affair and “love child” with a former campaign staffer. This included paying for Rielle Hunter's luxury housing and a living allowance.
Edwards' own attorney argued for leniency and an elastic view of the law.
“John Edwards is a man who has committed many sins, but no crimes,” Allison Van Laningham said in her opening. “We aren't going to judge John Edwards for his sins.”
But what Edwards did was a clear violation of campaign finance law.
“In our privately funded, cash-rich elections, politicians have no choice but to seek campaign contributions from wealthy individuals,” he says. “Many of the people who give contributions will want something in return, if nothing more than access to make their case on issues of politics or policy.
Politicians and contributors need to know what conduct falls on one side of the line and what falls on the other.”
The thing is they do know; it's all spelled out in the law. But even if Edwards, a career politician, was completely ignorant of the letter of that law, it should be obvious to anyone that what he did was egregiously on “the other side” of that line.
Not amazingly, Hasen has a cure for the Edwards conundrum: public financing of elections. In other words, politicians who have proven to be irresponsible with donated money should instead be given tax funds to spend.
“But criminal liability for campaign finance violations should be off the table except in the most concrete and egregious cases,” he says. “Otherwise, we risk deterring not just the unscrupulous, but also those who want to exercise their First Amendment rights by running for public office or supporting the candidates whom they believe will advance the public good. Even if John Edwards doesn't deserve our sympathy, his conviction won't do us any good.”
Prosecuting John Edwards will do us tons of good; it will be a good first step in restoring the public's trust in the political system.