Friday, June 3, 2011

Edwards Indictment Exposes D.C.’s Culture of Corruption

A federal grand jury’s six-count indictment Friday charging that former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards funneled $900,000 in donations to a pregnant mistress in order to hide an affair rocked the political landscape, igniting a backlash from tea party and social conservatives who say it’s another example of rampant corruption that is spilling across the Potomac and into America’s heartland.

Edwards appeared in federal court in Winston-Salem before U.S. Magistrate Judge Patrick Auld to hear the charges against him. Sources say Edwards, 58, was offered a plea deal before Friday’s announcement but declined to take it.

The indictment alleges Edwards conspired to violate federal campaign-finance laws, made false statements to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and accepted and received illegal campaign contributions that he later used to defray the expenses of mistress Reille Hunter, who gave birth to the child Edwards had denied fathering for two years, before he admitted it last year. Edwards has also been charged with trying to conceal the donations, which Edwards has described as gifts, from the FEC.

U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding of the Eastern District of North Carolina stated, “Without vigorously enforced campaign finance laws, the people of this country lose their voice. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice are committed to the prosecution of individuals who abuse the very system of which they seek to become a part.”

Social and fiscal conservatives bemoaned the developments as part of a trend of escalating scandals that illustrate what they see as the corrupting influence that an out-of-control government has had on leaders of both parties inside the Beltway.

“Anytime government is too deeply involved in people’s lives, either through taking too much of their income or regulating every aspect of their lives, there’s a danger of corruption,” said Ralph Reed, the former Christian Coalition leader whose new organization, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, is kicking off a major conference in the nation’s capital to help elect principled conservatives with strong moral beliefs.

In an exclusive Newsmax interview shortly after the indictments were announced, Reed told Newsmax that the ongoing spate of scandals at the top levels of governance are directly linked to the flood of special-interest money and influence inside the Beltway.

“And frankly, it’s a pox on both parties, it doesn’t matter whether its Republicans or Democrats,” he said. “If government is too big, if it’s out of control, and it’s taking too much of our income, and it’s regulating our lives too much, then people try to influence it and they do so in a corrupt manner.

"What we’re about at the Faith and Freedom Coalition is electing men and women of principle and faith in God and of strong moral beliefs who can get in there and change the system.

“We can’t just put those people in the same system we have,” Reed said. “We have to elect them and appoint them, and then we have to change the system.”

Reed’s take on scandal-plagued Washington echoed those of GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, who is widely expected to announce her candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination this month.

Bachmann told Newsmax in an exclusive interview that the Beltway elites running the country have stopped listening to heartland Americans, adding, “We’re not serfs working in the Middle Ages for the nobles.”

“I think it's because of the corrupt paradigm that has become Washington, D.C., whereby votes continually are bought rather than representatives voting the will of their constituents,” Bachmann told Newsmax. “That's the conundrum of the American people that they now have to live under, and I think the rise of the tea party movement has brought that issue there.

“People are recognizing all across the United States that they can't trust politicians anymore,” Bachmann added. “They actually have to get involved in their government in order to wrest it away from the politicians so that those views won't reflect those of the people. Otherwise, they see that we're going to lose the nation for the next generation.”

Such observations suggested the backlash to Washington’s ethical issues could help unite social and fiscal conservatives during the 2012 political cycle. A Pew Forum survey has determined 40 percent of tea party members identify themselves as Christian conservatives, suggesting a powerful alliance if the two groups unite.

Neither Bachmann nor Reed suggested that the GOP is immune from the grave moral failings they see as directly linked to the confluence of power, money, and politics that are Washington’s stock and trade. Indeed, there are many example of high-profile politicians snared in scandals on both sides of the aisle.

This week, Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner, a firebrand New York liberal, hemmed that he could not say for sure whether a lewd picture sent to a woman via his Twitter account was an image of him.

Weiner, who has ambitions of someday being mayor of New York City, claimed his Twitter account had been hacked. He lashed out at journalists who asked probing questions in an effort to get the complete story.

On Friday, the Weiner drama became even more bizarre, as the woman who received the image told the New York Post she doesn’t believe the hacking story, and thinks Weiner may have intended to send the image to a porn star with a similar name.

"I'm just collateral damage," Gennette Cordova, a 21-year-old college student from Seattle, told The Post.

Illicit D.C. dalliances are a bipartisan problem. Just a few examples:

  • In 1999, Louisiana GOP Rep. Bob Livingstone was poised to succeed Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House, when he suddenly resigned due to revelations of an affair. Livingstone, ironically, was replaced in the House by GOP Rep. David Vitter, who later became a U.S. Senator and was reelected despite revelations that he had been listed as a client of the notorious “D.C. Madame” prostitution ring. Vitter apologized for “a very serious sin in my past.”
  • Florida GOP Rep. Mark Foley resigned in September 2006 after revelations that he sent sexually explicit instant messages to teens working as congressional pages. The GOP midterm debacle in 2006 was partially attributed to that scandal. Foley’s successor, Democrat Tim Mahoney, himself later resigned after allegations he had paid off a mistress on his staff. Mahoney later admitted to numerous affairs.
  • In March 2008, The New York Times reported that then-New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, a Democrat, was a client of a prostitution ring under federal investigation. The newspaper said Spitzer used campaign funds to book hotel rooms at D.C.’s swank Mayflower Hotel.
  • In June 2007, GOP Idaho Sen. Larry Craig was arrested for lewd conduct in a restroom in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He pled guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, and did not run for re-election.
  • In May, Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., resigned amidst allegations he paid $96,000 to try to keep an affair quiet with a campaign staffer. His case was investigated by the FBI and the Federal Election Commission.
The indictment against Edwards appears to parallel some allegations against Ensign, so much so that a Las Vegas Sun story speculated, “Could an Edwards indictment be precursor of one for Ensign?”

Vanderbilt University political science and law professor Carol M. Swain, author of  "Be the People: A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise," tells Newsmax the political leaders no longer seem to believe that rules of moral behavior apply to them. Such qualms are only for “the little people,” she says, and are part of a larger cultural decay.

“Conditions seem to be worsening and we are seeing politicians trying to get away with more and more immoral behavior,” says Swain. “I believe the root of the problem lies in our nation’s abandonment of its Judeo-Christian roots. We have cast off all moral restraints. We can see this in the behavior of our politicians, in the public policies being proposed, and in the increasing lawlessness of the people.

“By their immoral behavior, our leaders send the message that laws no longer matter,” she tells Newsmax. “ No wonder we are seeing increasing lawlessness from the public — we are experiencing a breakdown of our culture."

According to The New York Times, Edwards opted to fight the charges rather than accept the plea deal that would have avoided a drawn-out trial because legal team believes the government’s case is shaky. The indictment states that the money paid to mistress Hunter was used for living and medical expenses, and to pay “for the travel and accommodations necessary to hide this individual from the news media and the public so that Edwards’ candidacy would not be damaged.

The Federal Election Act limits the amount any one individual may donate to a candidate for office. Edwards insists the money he received from a few wealthy supporters, far in excess of the 2008 limit of $2,300 per person, was not a campaign donation. The indictment states a donation includes “anything of value provided for the purpose of influencing a federal election, including contributions to a candidate and his/her campaign”

Edwards faces up to five years in prison, and a $250,000 fine, on each count against him.

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