By Joshua Madden
John Edwards may not be the most moral person of all time, but is it actually fair to call him a criminal and send him to jail?
Campaign finance laws, while well-intentioned, arguably do more harm than good. Like any complicated system of laws, there exists a series of loopholes that can be taken advantage of. Does anyone, even for a second, actually think that campaign finance laws have stopped the corrupt flow of money into politics? Of course not.
Former Senator John Edwards, who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2004 and ran for president in the Democratic primary in both 2004 and 2008, has been charged with violating campaign finance laws in 2008 after he used money to hide the fact that he had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a woman who did video work for his campaign. Prosecutors are arguing that Edwards hid this for political gain and therefore used this money in a way that violated campaign finance laws.
So what is Edwards’ argument? That he was hiding his affair not from voters, but from his terminally ill wife. Not exactly the best excuse, but it would technically mean that he has not violated campaign laws.
At the point where immoral actions can be used to show why someone did not actually break the law, are the laws themselves actually justified?
I think most people would agree that hiding the fact that you had an affair from a wife with terminal cancer is a despicable action, so the fact that an immoral action is not a crime, but using the money towards a presidential campaign is, says something about the nature of American campaign finance law.
There’s a simple enough solution: stop using the law to try to legislate morality with campaign financing.
Edwards has already fought for — and been denied — an early dismissal of the case before him. As much as I have trouble supporting him, I think that the judge should have dismissed the case because the thought of being able to prosecute someone for their intentions more than their actual actions sets a scary precedent.
Perhaps in the process of gaining the indictment the prosecution was able to show clear evidence that Edwards was in violation of the law, but even then, they would have to be proving his thoughts more than his actions, which shows why this law must be removed from the books.
I hope that the Supreme Court will eventually clear up this gray area in American criminal law. The fact that we have such vague laws is inexcusable, particularly given that Edwards faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines, according to an article from the New York Times titled “Edwards Loses Bid to Get Campaign Case Dismissed.”
As despicable as Edwards’ actions may have been, I don’t think that anyone could reasonably argue that he actually deserves to go to prison for the next three decades because of a technicality in campaign finance law.
There is simply no reasonable argument to be made for justifying these laws. If we really want to ensure that our politicians run ethically financed campaigns, then we should demand that they make their financing transparent and we only vote for candidates that meet those standards.
Unfortunately, I guess it’s easier to just make laws that send them to prison instead of actually being a little more active in the political process ourselves.
Joshua Madden is a graduate student in information systems from Olathe, KS and the Lariat’s Arts & Entertainment editor.