Keepin’ It Real

May 23, 2007

John Edwards’ non-profit campaign

Filed under: John Edwards,Politics — mary @ 12:03 am

I read an interesting entry at the American Thinker blog today, which discusses John Edwards “parking” his campaign staff at his non-profit poverty center.

The entry quotes a Business Week article questioning the practice of Edwards using his non-profit (the Center for Promise & Opportunity), a much different legal entity than a campaign entity, for the purpose of keeping his campaign staff employed, and thus ready to roll out the campaign when Edwards was ready, rather than use experts in the field of poverty.

The Business Week article states:

The line between an ordinary nonprofit and a group formed to test the political waters can be blurry. But legally there’s a big difference. Ordinary nonprofits aren’t subject to rules on disclosing donors and limiting contributions; exploratory political groups are. No one has challenged the status of the Edwards center, and experts in the field say it may technically pass muster as an ordinary nonprofit. But at a minimum, it appears to have helped Edwards prepare for the 2008 Presidential race.

This was the paragraph I found most interesting:

Edwards, a former Democratic senator from North Carolina, launched the center in 2005 at the Washington (D.C.) address of his PAC. The nonprofit raised $1.3 million in 2005, the only year for which data are available, and spent some of it on a national speaking tour for Edwards. It also spent $259,000 on consultants. The campaign declines to disclose the donors or consultants. The center is now defunct, and some of its key leaders are now aiding the Edwards campaign. The Edwards campaign says the Center is not connected to a separate Edwards anti-poverty effort at the University of North Carolina.

I find the funding of a speaking tour for John Edwards to be absolutely fascinating on two levels. First, on non-profit dollars he was able in 2005 to position himself and grow a constituency without ever having to declare for President and follow the election rules. Second, one wonders, did this funding of a speaking tour allow Sen. Edwards an opportunity, on the backs of donors, to earn speaking fees? It has been diclosed that in 2006, Edwards earned more than $400,000 in speaking fees, presumably speaking on the topic of poverty as he did at UC Davis in January, 2006.

One does wonder, what fees, if any were earned in 2005.

And, further, the Business Week article is hardly the first, to raise Edwards’ use of a non-profit as a way to launch his campaign. The author at the JimBuie blog, discusses his misgivings about a UNC Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity event:

“Come have coffee with John Edwards,” the email in late August, 2006 stated. Since former senator Edwards and I, in our jobs, both worked on the issue of poverty, I didn’t find the invitation surprising. It seemed natural that people from my organization — the North Carolina Justice Center — and Edwards’ organization — the University of North Carolina Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity — would want to communicate closely.

But when I arrived at the “coffee,” the room was bursting with hundreds of people, mostly students, and Edwards was pontificating about a range of issues as if he were on the campaign trail. Any fantasy I had that Senator Edwards and I would be in a small-group setting discussing the intricacies of poverty in North Carolina dissolved.

What he said during the event (Daily Tar Heel coverage) was fine as far as it goes, for a general audience with a cursory knowledge of the subject. But I came away feeling disappointed and cynical that he was using his position at the University and the issue of poverty to connect with core constituencies in the Democratic Party who would provide a base of support as he plans to run for president in 2008.

Also, an October 25, 2006 article in the University of North Carolina newspaper The Daily Tarheel discussed the concern raised about Edwards’ use of the University of North Carolina’s Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity, of which he was a director, as a political platform for his eventual run for President:

Other than a few family portraits, some books and a couple of cans of mixed nuts, John Edwards’ office at the UNC School of Law appears unused.

It’s apparent that the office, where Edwards sits as director of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, is not his only workplace.

An analysis by The Daily Tar Heel of Edwards’ calendar items shows that the potential White House hopeful has spent about half of the past two months away from Chapel Hill, where he and wife Elizabeth recently built a $4.2 million estate.

His travels are leading many to believe that the former senator is gearing up for 2008. . . .

. . . .”The poverty center at UNC-Chapel Hill is largely a vehicle for running a campaign based on economic concerns,” he (John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation) said. “I think it’s obvious by the activities of the center that it is primarily designed to keep John Edwards in the public debate on a signature issue so he will be a viable candidate.”. . . .

. . . .”It is not an uncommon thing for politicians who lost and want to stay in the game to see a platform to address public issues,” Hood said.

But Hood said that the center’s location on campus draws valid concerns.

“It’s a legitimate concern for the public in North Carolina to wonder if an arm of their state university is being used to enhance a political campaign,” he said.

All very interesting. Do his actions affect the status of the two non-profits? Was his work in the non-profits at all in contravention of election laws? No matter what, to me, it smacks of political opportunism on the backs of donors. One of the most important things one learns in law school is to “think like a lawyer”. Working the system, I guess, is one way to embody that law school mantra, but not the one many of us idealists had in mind as we developed that skill.


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