Sunday, June 05, 2011

Murky Laws and Powerful Prosecutors

John Edwards is being prosecuted under a very broad interpretation of the campaign finance laws. The problem is that campaign finance laws require any expenditure that might benefit a candidate to be counted and reported to the federal government. Since the money from a wealthy friend that was keeping his mistress from publicly talking about their affair was of some obvious benefit to the campaign. That makes it a campaign contribution.

What is the point of this, though? He is not running for anything. Do we have an epidemic of hush money to mistresses that is distorting our political system? Was this at all what Congress was thinking of when it passed the campaign finance laws? Isn't what we are worried about with campaign finance one candidate being able to buy up so much airtime and publicity that the public's decision making will be distorted? It seems to me that broadening the law to such an extent will give ambitious prosecutors all kinds of license to attack prominent politicians in the future. Who is to say that money A spends does not somehow make B look better to the public and thus, indirectly, constitute a campaign contribution?

What is really distressing is the commentary on this. It is all from lawyers and is framed as an inside baseball question of whether the prosecutor can get a conviction. It is all about the oh-so-entertaining contest between lawyers and the implications for their respective careers and reputations. How this further expansion of the law into politics will benefit the republic is a question that is never raised.

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