A troubling story about John Edwards.

Politics and policy.
Aug. 29 2003 10:42 AM

The Worst of John Edwards

A troubling tale from his past. Is it true?

John Edwards

Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates' biographies, buzzwords, agendas, worldviews, and claims to fame. This series assesses the story that supposedly shows each candidate at his worst. Here's the one told by critics of John Edwards—and what they leave out.

Charge: In March 2003, employees of Turner & Associates, a law firm in Little Rock, Ark., gave Edwards campaign contributions that appear to have been illegal. One Turner clerk who gave Edwards $2,000 told the Washington Post that the firm's principal, Tab Turner, "asked for people to support Edwards" and assured them that "he would reimburse us." Another clerk affirmed that she had given Edwards $2,000 on the understanding that Turner would reimburse her. Such reimbursements are illegal because they circumvent the $2,000 limit. The U.S. Justice Department reportedly opened an investigation, and in May 2003, the American Conservative Union asked the Federal Elections Commission to examine Edwards for "a pattern of clear violation" of campaign-finance laws. The ACU's chairman said of Edwards, "It's clear that he and his campaign organized this thing in order to allow trial lawyers and their firms to contribute illegal money." As of August 2003, neither the FEC nor the Justice Department had released any conclusions.

The Edwards campaign returned the $10,000 it had received from Turner employees but declined to review the legality of donations from employees at other law firms, arguing that "we don't have any reason to presume irregularities elsewhere." Although $10,000 is a small fraction of the $7.4 million Edwards raised in the first quarter of 2003, it helped him eke out a narrow victory (by $400,000) over John Kerry in the money contest, giving Edwards a crucial publicity boost. The donations also undermined Edwards' posture as a campaign reformer and underscored his financial dependence on plaintiffs' attorneys.

Defense: As of August 2003, no evidence had been produced to show that the Edwards campaign knew any of the contributions were illegal. Tab Turner said he hadn't realized that reimbursements were forbidden. As soon as irregularities were disclosed, Edwards returned contributions from all employees of the Turner firm, not just the two employees who had said they expected reimbursement. The Washington Post investigated paralegals from other firms who had donated to Edwards but found no indication that these donors had been reimbursed. The Los Angeles Times reported, "There has been no suggestion that the Edwards campaign, or Edwards himself, did anything wrong."

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Ben Jacobs is a Slate intern.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Outward
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.