John Edwards and Bunny's Honey Money
John Edwards has a multiple defenses planned for the Bunny Money -- the funds provided by Bunny Mellon through her decorator Bryan Huffman to Andrew and Cheri Young. Their arguments also apply to the Fred Baron money. It essentially boils down to: If Bunny's Money Went to My Honey, You Must Acquit.
The Government says the donations from Mellon and Baron were for the purpose of influencing the 2008 election – helping Edwards be elected President of the United States – and that Edwards knew it. [More...]
The Government is relying on two theories: First, the government maintains Mellon and/or Baron provided the money for the purpose of influencing the election. Second, the government maintains Mellon and Baron paid “personal use” expenses of Mr. Edwards that they would not have paid irrespective of the election.
Edwards maintains since he did not prearrange or coordinate the spending, the spending is not a contribution and there is no crime.
But even if the jury were to decide Edwards did know about the money and instructed Andrew Young to solicit and receive it, Team Edwards has more up its sleeve. It has asked that the jury be instructed (from Edwards' proposed Jury Instructions, available on PACER):
[T]he spending must be for the purpose of influencing the election. This means that the spending must be unambiguously related to the candidate’s campaign. That is, it must be susceptible of no reasonable interpretation other than to elect a candidate in a federal election.
...Thus, in order to convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that the money alleged to have been spent by an individual in this matter was a “contribution” under this theory, the government must convince each of you that there was no other reason for this money to be spent other than to elect Mr. Edwards President of the United States.
Payment of personal expenses is only a campaign contribution if the person would not have paid those expenses irrespective of the campaign and they are expenses the candidate would have been obligated to pay even if he was not running for office.
A “personal use” expense is an expense of a candidate that would exist irrespective of the election. Such an expense must be personal to the candidate or must be an expense that the candidate is legally obligated to pay without regard to the election.
The personal expense has to be an expense of the candidate, not a third party, like Rielle Hunter or Andrew Young:
The personal use expense regulation only applies to the candidate’s personal use expenses. It does not apply to the payment of personal expenses of other people unrelated to the candidate.
....If the expense is one that Mr. Edwards would not have been obligated to pay or would not have paid if he had not been running for President, then it is not a personal use expense and you cannot convict him on this theory.
Team Edwards argues in its Trial Brief:
Ms. Mellon and Mr. Baron covered Ms. Hunter's personal expenses (and, much more so, the Youngs' personal expenses, such as construction of their dream home)—not Mr. Edwards' expenses.
As such, these cannot constitute "personal use" expenses of Mr. Edwards that would have existed irrespective of the campaign, and the Indictment fails to allege otherwise. Moreover, because "personal use" expenses are those expenses that a candidate is legally obligated to pay regardless of the campaign, and because Mr. Edwards was not legally obligated to support Ms. Hunter in any way prior to the birth of their child in February of 2008 (after he withdrew from the presidential race), the monies could not fall within the personal use rule.
Team Edwards wants the jury to be instructed:
[I] Mr. Baron or Mrs. Mellon would have paid these expenses even if Mr. Edwards had not been running for President, then the payment of these expenses is not a “contribution” and you cannot convict him on this theory.
Timing of the payments is also critical. Team Edwards says
[A] campaign contribution is not accepted until it is deposited and, for the purposes of criminal liability, acceptance marks the crime. Thus, any monies deposited after the campaign ended on January 30, 2008 may not form the basis of criminal liability.
[O]nce an individual stops seeking nomination or election for federal office, in this case the nomination of the Democratic Party for the Presidency of the United States, he ceases to be a “candidate” and payments received by such an individual are not deemed for the purpose of influencing that person’s election.
...[A] campaign contribution is not “received” until it is deposited. If money is received after the Mr. Edwards was no longer a candidate for a federal election, then it is not for the purpose of influencing the election.
...[T]the government must also convince you beyond a reasonable doubt that any money which it claims was a contribution was deposited by Mr. Edwards or someone acting on his behalf at a time when Mr. Edwards was a candidate for President of the United States.
If monies were received (deposited) after Edwards withdrew from the race, Team Edwards says the jury must exclude that amount from its determination as to whether Edwards received more than $25,000 in excessive contributions in a calendar year from a specific individual. The only purpose for which the jury can consider such funds is:
Payments received after a person is no longer a candidate may be considered by you to determine if payments made before were for the purpose of influencing the election.
Mr. Edwards will argue the monies were not direct contributions to the John Edwards for President Campaign, the monies were not coordinated expenditures made for a campaign-related purpose, and the monies do not fall within the personal use expense regulation. The evidence will demonstrate the expenses involved were not to satisfy debts that Mr. Edwards was legally obligated to pay irrespective of the campaign; that Mr. Baron and Ms. Mellon would have given the money regardless of the campaign; and that Mr. Baron and Ms. Mellon made the payments knowing that the monies would not be used for campaign purposes.
So, according to Team Edwards, if Bunny's money went to Edwards' honey, it was not a personal use expense since he wasn't obligated to pay money for the baby's support until after the baby was born. Plus, Bunny would have given it to him regardless of whether he was running for office. Plus money given after he ceased running for office doesn't count.
The Government, of course, argues differently, and the Court may or may not agree to instruct the jury in accordance with Team Edwards' theory.
Ordinarily, one might be concerned as to whether jurors will take the time to fully analyze the fine print in federal election laws. In this case, I think the jury may be so anxious to avoid having to rehash the tawdry details of this trio of unsavory characters (Andrew Young, Rielle and Edwards), they may welcome the opportunity to focus on anything that doesn't make them feel like they need a shower afterwards, even hyper-technical federal statutes.
Team Edwards can make the argument "If Bunny's Money Went to My Honey, You Must Acquit" pretty simply, boiling it down to:
- Mellon and Baron funded Young's and Hunter's personal expenses, not Edwards' expenses.
- Edwards wasn't legally obligated to pay Young's and Hunter's expenses regardless of the campaign.
- Mellon and Baron would have paid for the expenses even had Edwards not been running for office
- Money paid after Edwards' withdrew from the race doesn't count and must be excluded from the calculation of total payments received in a particular year.
I'll leave for another day Edwards' additional defenses to the conspiracy and false statement charges.
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