John Edwards, the former presidential candidate and one-time U.S. senator from North Carolina, is on trial in a federal courthouse for campaign finance violations. The heart of the prosecution's case: Edwards accepted nearly $1 million in donations to help cover up an extra-marital affair that would have doomed his 2008 presidential campaign. Edwards, a United Methodist, committed a sin in cheating on his dying wife, Elizabeth Edwards, and fathering a child outside of his marriage. But was it a crime? Many legal scholars say no and in the American legal system we should not be putting people on trial or in prison for their personal sins absent a criminal offense.
Edwards maintains that the donations used to cover-up his affair were gifts -- not political contributions -- to help hide the affair from his wife, and himself from embarrassment. No other politician has been brought up on similar criminal charges though others have accepted gifts that may have in some way benefited their political fortunes.Politico reports today in reference to the case:
Brett Kappel, a campaign finance attorney at Arent Fox, warned that the court could set a dangerous precedent by deciding that any payment that would affect the image of the candidate would be a campaign contribution. "Once you become a candidate, that does not mean that no one can ever give you a gift until after the campaign is over," Kappel said. "Suppose that your wife gives you a nice shirt for Christmas. Is that a campaign contribution by the candidate's wife that counts towards her $2,500 per election limit? No."
Americans of all political stripes loath John Edwards. He was a politician of great promise who spoke in moral terms about the need to heal our nation from the divisions that have hurt us as a people. Edwards spoke out strongly about the need to fight poverty. In these causes, he echoed Christian principles. But in at least the last several years of his political life he lived a life where he seemingly abandoned his Christian faith in search of personal pleasure that tore his family apart during a time they needed him most. As a husband, he failed. As a father, he failed. Yet these seem to be issues best left to be resolved between Edwards and God, not a court of law. There is every reason to believe the case against Edwards is overreach.
Still, we want punishment for this man for betrayed not only his family but the nation. He put his own ambition before the national interest. Of course, many politicians have done the same. And how do you compare the sin of one person over another? Edwards' sin was personal. George W. Bush lied to the nation in a successful effort to take us into war that cost countless lives. Richard Nixon caused a constitutional crisis that tested the fabric of our government. Weren't these sins much worse and more criminal in nature than anything Edwards did? Neither Bush or Nixon served prison time.
Perhaps Edwards will one day come to a place where he is truly deserving of forgiveness and redemption -- those as Christian concepts as much as sin and should be offered to all who show genuine remorse and acts of repentance -- but right now that is difficult to imagine. It is worth considering, however, whether or not the government's case is simply a effort of national revenge -- and even political gamesmanship by the GOP prosecutor who filed the charges and the resigned to run for Congress as a Tea Party favoriate. Will sending John Edwards to jail truly punish his sinful behavior -- will it protect his small children -- or will it show that our legal system is broken by attempting to act pass judgment not on a criminal matter but a personal and religious one?