By John Ballard
The salacious details of the John Edwards show trial are like raisins in the pudding for news organizations. No matter what the rest of the news may be, from weather disasters to terrorism plots, that circus in North Carolina is like money in the bank on a slow news day. It's the political equivalent to those scandal magazines at the grocery line. Few customers actually buy them but nearly everybody looks.
...there's no criminal statute in the United States against behaving like a scoundrel in one's personal relationships. If there were, dozens of national political figures -- from Bill Clinton to Newt Gingrich to Elliot Spitzer to Mark Sanford -- and millions of other less well-known individuals would have served or be serving time right now.
Fortunately, however, this is not Saudi Arabia or 17th century Massachusetts. Modern Americans may often be a holier-than-thou bunch, but we do not (and hopefully never will) send people to jail for adultery or lying to their spouses or getting their friends to help them conceal an affair.
So, if not to punish a scoundrel, what else? What other objective could the federal prosecutors have in targeting Edwards?
Is it to send a message of deterrence to current and future politicians that they can't evade campaign finance laws by having their friends make expenditures that will benefit them and their campaigns?
If so, it's hard to see how that will work. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered such message-sending completely obsolete with its infamous decision in the Citizens United case. That decision, of course, opened the floodgates to unlimited expenditures from wealthy individuals and corporations to directly benefit political candidates. Had the court's decision been issued prior to Edwards' ill-fated cover-up of his affair with Rielle Hunter, it's hard to see how the issue would have ever even arisen as a possible violation of the law.
...it's one of the great and under-reported ironies of the Edwards trial that the very man who indicted Edwards -- former U.S. Attorney turned wannabe congressman George Holding -- is himself a daily beneficiary of massive amounts of unreported super-PAC spending that is specifically designed to evade "caps" on campaign contributions and is in many essential ways indistinguishable from the money spent by Mellon on Edwards!
Think about that for a minute: How does a man in such circumstances look himself in the mirror every morning knowing that he has helped to inflict such intense agony upon so many already long-suffering humans? Seriously, what is the point? What principle is possibly being vindicated? What possible good would it do for anyone connected with this mess -- most notably Edwards' children -- if the former senator were to go to prison? What public figure is going to be deterred from future skullduggery?
Especially given the radical shift in campaign finance law, it's as if prosecutors had decided to prosecute someone for being an alcoholic during prohibition�two years after its repeal.