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John Edwards' Lawyer Defends His 2008 Campaign's Recent Spending

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RALEIGH, N.C. — A lawyer for John Edwards is defending recent spending by his 2008 presidential primary campaign, saying the expenses were related to last year's criminal probe of the former North Carolina senator and an ongoing federal audit.

Patricia A. Fiori said none of the $836,712 in expenses disclosed in a required report last week went to Edwards or his criminal defense team. Politicians are barred by law from using campaign funds for personal expenses.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the 2008 campaign is still spending freely for airfare, hotels and other expenses, despite a $2.1 million debt the Federal Election Commission says it must repay taxpayers for public matching funds improperly received after Edwards dropped his 2008 run for the White House.

That FEC audit is separate from the criminal case in which Edwards faces six felony and misdemeanor counts related to campaign finance violations stemming from money paid by wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress during the 2008 race. He has pleaded not guilty.

Fiori declined to comment for AP story earlier this week, providing a telephone number for the Edwards campaign that rang busy for days, even at midnight. The Chapel Hill street address listed with the number was for office space vacated more three years ago.

On Friday, Fiori said the John Edwards for President committee is a "totally separate entity" from the former candidate and that Edwards plays no role in deciding how the campaign spends its remaining funds, which exceeded $2.1 million as of Dec. 31.

"No committee funds have been or are being spent on or for Sen. Edwards for any reason, including his criminal defense, nor have any committee funds been provided to lawyers representing Sen. Edwards in the criminal case against him," Fiori said.

Edwards' year-end report, filed Jan. 31, showed $315,000 in fees paid to Utrecht & Phillips, the Washington, D.C. law firm that includes Fiori and three other lawyers fighting last year's unanimous FEC ruling that the campaign must return its remaining funds to taxpayers.

Fiori said all campaign spending following Edwards' withdrawal from the race in 2008 has been related to the FEC audit and subpoenas from the U.S. Department of Justice requiring "hundreds of thousands of pages of documents" to be handed over in response to the criminal investigation.

The required year-end report filed by Edwards on Jan. 31 provides little insight into what political purpose some of the campaign's recent expenses might serve.

Edwards' 2011 campaign reports show it spent more than $15,000 in 2011 on airfare, though the destinations or purpose of the travel were not listed. In January, August and December, the campaign spent $2,268 for tickets on Alaska Airlines, a transcontinental carrier that does not offer flights between East Coast cities such as Raleigh or Washington.

Most of the $12,811 in payments for lodging were made to websites such as Hotels.com and Kayak.com, providing no information about where the rooms were booked, when or for what purpose.

More than $266,000 was paid for salary, payroll and health insurance premiums, along with $1,116 for cell phones and $428 to a bottled water delivery company.

Fiori confirmed Friday that the Edwards campaign now has no office of full-time employees. But she declined to provide any details about the expenses, such as who was traveling. She stressed that the spending was proper and within FEC guidelines.

"Any assertion otherwise is totally false," she said.

Edwards, a Democrat, received more than $12.9 million in federal matching funds, the money generated from the $3 box that taxpayers can check on their tax returns. Most of the public money came after he dropped out of the race Jan. 30, 2008.

For weeks the married candidate had denied tabloid reports of an affair with campaign staffer Rielle Hunter. After withdrawing from the race, Edwards eventually admitted he had fathered Hunter's baby.

A judge delayed the scheduled Jan. 30 start of Edwards' criminal trial after it was revealed in court filings that the former senator has a serious heart condition that requires treatment.

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Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck

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