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Jewish World Review July 8, 2004 / 19 Tamuz, 5764

Dick Morris

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Looking for the dirty laundry in Edwards's closet | The cheering that surrounds John Kerry's choice of John Edwards for vice president may fade quickly if the Bush campaign's negative researchers are on the ball.

Edwards has a real vulnerability in the way he raised campaign money during his abortive presidential bid.

The North Carolina senator and former trial lawyer leaned heavily on his former peers for campaign funding. More than half of his donations came from trial lawyers, and 22 of his top 25 contributions came from his former colleagues at the bar.

While trial lawyers will not win any popularity contests, their support of Edwards, per se, will not do him much harm.

Trial lawyers are no less popular than the oil-company types who fund so much of the Bush campaign. But there is a strong indication that many of these funds may have been contributed illegally.

Trial lawyers are usually quite wealthy men whose firms are often not much more than a collection of secretaries, paralegals and processing personnel.

They sit atop these litigation factories where clerks process cases, computers encode them and low-level attorneys try to settle them out of court. Accustomed to giving large sums to political campaigns, these trial lawyers do not blink at writing six-figure checks for their favorite candidates.

But they are not used to hard-money requirements. Their usual soft-money donations to party committees and the like are easy for them to handle, but donations to a presidential campaign have to be limited to $2,000 per person. And there lies the weakness of the trial bar — finding enough people in their orbits rich enough to give $2,000 to a candidate.

For corporate attorneys, it is not hard to pass the hat around the firm and round up a sizeable sum. But in trial lawyers' shops, the average clerk cannot usually ante up the funds to donate to a political campaign.

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There is evidence that Edwards may have circumvented the campaign-finance law by bundling contributions from law clerks and paralegals who did not actually make the donations from their own funds.

Tab Turner, for example, the eminent Little Rock trial lawyer, donated $200,000 to Edwards's campaign and his 527 committees. Investigators interviewed the clerks in his firm in whose names many of the donations were made. Slate magazine reported, on Aug. 29, 2003, that "one clerk who gave $2,000 to Edwards said that Turner had 'asked for people to support Edwards' and assured them that 'he would reimburse us.'"

Edwards had to return $10,000 to several Turner employees and attorney Tab claimed that he did not know it was illegal to reimburse his employees for their donations.

One or two illegal contributions will not bring Edwards down, but it is easy to speculate that his donor list may be rife with such tales. The pressure on trial lawyers to come up with funds for the struggling Edwards campaign was intense, and many trial lawyers may have fallen victim to the temptation to use straw donors to make their contributions.

Bush's negative-research people need to comb through the donor lists and interview each of the contributors to find out how many were putting up their bosses money.

Edwards could blow up in Kerry's face, just as Geraldine Ferraro did in Walter Mondale's and Thomas Eagleton did in McGovern's. People look to the vice-presidential selection as an indicator of what kind of appointments a presidential candidate would make should he win the election. Edwards sends all the right signals — a Southerner, a moderate, a charismatic and caring senator. But should he be tripped up over campaign donations, he could become a big liability very, very quickly.

The Edwards designation opens the door for the Bush negative researchers — and they are really good at exploiting such opportunities. Really good.

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JWR contributor Dick Morris is the author of, most recently, "Rewriting History", a rebuttal of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) memoir, Living History. (ClickHERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Dick Morris