Jumat, 15 Agustus 2008

PAC Payments by Edwards Appear Legal

While John Edwards has drawn widespread scorn and ridicule for his affair with a video producer on his payroll, campaign-finance lawyers say the payments were most likely legal

"There is nothing that has come out already that screams FEC violation," said Marc Elias, a Democratic lawyer with Perkins Coie LLP. "I think that the senator's problems rest in the court of public opinion, not the Federal Election Commission."

Campaign-finance laws give politicians wide discretion over how to spend money in their accounts. Candidates can also create what is called a "leadership PAC," or political action committee, which can be used for political purposes but not to support their own candidacy.

Mr. Edwards's leadership PAC paid the company of Rielle Hunter a total of $114,000. Her company, Midline Groove Productions, produced four videos for Mr. Edwards in 2006 before he announced his presidential candidacy. Five people are listed on the credits for the films, which averaged about five minutes in length and documented Mr. Edwards behind the scenes before public events, including a speech he gave on Wal-Mart, an appearance on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and a three-day trip to Uganda.

The company was paid $100,000 over a four-month period in 2006 and then an additional $14,000 on April 1, 2007. The 2007 payment coincides with a transfer of about $14,000 made on the same day from Mr. Edwards's campaign account to his leadership PAC. The purpose of the transfer is listed on his campaign-finance reports as a sale of furniture from one committee to the other.

Former Edwards aides said the payments to Ms. Hunter's firm were for goods and services she provided. The campaign no longer has a spokesman.

Candidates aren't allowed to use their campaign money for personal use, which includes paying a family member more than fair market value for goods or services. The Federal Election Commission specifies about 25 different types of people that could be called family members of the candidate, including the wife of a step-sibling and someone sharing a residence. It doesn't include a romantic interest.

Leadership PACs have more discretion in spending, facing no such restriction on personal use. Candidates have often used them for expenses benefiting themselves.

"The personal-use restrictions do not apply to leadership PACs; they apply to the use of campaign committee funds," said Michael Toner, a former FEC chairman and a counsel to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. "That doesn't make a lot of sense rationally, but that is what it is under the law."


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