Election Law

Would Ruling in Citizens United Have Rescued John Edwards from a Criminal Trial?

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The campaign finance case against John Edwards will look “somewhat quaint” in the context of the Citizens United decision allowing corporations to support candidates with independent spending, according to a lawyer observing the trial.

Raleigh, N.C., lawyer Hampton Dellinger told the New York Times that Edwards supporter Fred Baron, the now deceased trial lawyer, would have taken a different tack following the Supreme Court ruling. “My sense is that in a post-Citizens United world, Fred Baron would set up a super PAC” to handle donations used to hide Edwards’ affair, he said.

The Christian Science Monitor also notes the ruling could have produced a different result. It’s “an open question” whether Edwards would be facing criminal charges if Citizens United had already been decided, the story says.

The issue in the Edwards case is whether donations used to hide Edwards’ mistress were gifts or illegal campaign contributions, the Times says. Edwards’ lawyers contend that the donations aren’t illegal unless they were given for the sole reason of influencing the election. The prosecution says the donations are illegal as long as one of the reasons was to influence the election.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles sided with prosecutors on the issue, saying the government doesn’t have to prove that the sole purpose was to influence the election. She included this instruction: “People rarely act with a single purpose in mind. On the other hand, if the donor would have made the gift or payment notwithstanding the election, it does not become a contribution merely because the gift or payment might have some impact on the election.”

Jurors begin their fifth day of deliberations in the case today, the Associated Press reports.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “Citizens Dis-United: Justices May Take Another Look at Campaign Finance Case”

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