Edwards-Friendly 527 Funding Sparks Controversy
By Matthew Mosk
John Edwards' populist message has, without a doubt, helped distinguish him from the other Democratic candidates competing in Iowa.
But a central tenet of that message -- the idea that he is campaigning free from the influence of the powerful forces that control Washington -- is being challenged in light of the most recent federal election filings by one of the outside groups advocating on his behalf, and has sparked a round of dueling memos by the campaign managers of the Barack Obama and Edwards campaigns.
As The Post reported Friday, the independent expenditure group Alliance for a New America recently received nearly $500,000 from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, a 97-year-old socialite who is the widow of Paul Mellon and daughter-in-law of industrialist Andrew Mellon. It is at least the second check Mellon has written to an Edwards-affiliated entity. The first, for $250,000, came in 2006, to the One America independent group that helped support Edwards' political efforts in between his presidential bids.
"These latest revelations make it clear why Edwards was able to announce that he could accept public funds while still spending all he needed to spend in Iowa," wrote Obama campaign manager David Plouffe in memo released this morning. "His campaign simply exploited the biggest loophole in the campaign finance system in order to get public matching funds while arranging through allies to benefit from a 527. That's how they avoided the spending limits that are a condition of the public matching funds."
Edwards himself invoked the Mellon family name just one month ago, and for very different reasons, when a New Hampshire voter at a town hall meeting in Bow asked about the last time a president stood up to powerful and wealthy forces in America.
"The ones who are best known are not recent," Edwards replied. "I mean Teddy Roosevelt did it, he did it very clearly, and he did it, I might add, in a time where there was a huge concentration of wealth and power, because he was back in the days when -- you know, some people refer to it as the Gilded Age -- back in the period where, you know, the Rockefellers and the Mellons and the Carnegies, all these people, owned most of America or a big chunk of America and they used their money and power to dominate what was happening in the government and to dominate what was happening in the economy."
Edwards said he saw a lot of similarities between those times and today, and credited Roosevelt for standing up to those influential families. "It's the easiest thing in the world to turn your head and say, listen, it's just the way it is, there is nothing we can do about it, we just have to accept it.... We have to accept that they have a lot of power, they have a lot of influence and they're going to control a lot of what's going to happen in the democracy....
"If we continue in the cycle -- which is what's happening now -- if we continue in the cycle where what we do is we try to see, you know, who can raise the most money from whomever they can get it from to win this election and then be beholden to the people who helped them, nothing will change," he continued. "That's my whole point. Nothing will change."
Edwards brushed off his rival's criticism. "I'm very proud of my record," he told the Associated Press. "Unlike other candidates, including Sen. Obama, I've never take money from a Washington lobbyist, never taken money from a PAC." He added: "If Sen. Obama and his campaign want to focus on negative attacks they can do that, but that is not what I'm going to do."
Added Edwards campaign manager and former congressman David Bonior in an afternoon memo: "David Plouffe, Senator Obama's campaign manager, is unfortunately using the oldest political trick in the book by trying to mislead voters by linking two things together that are not linked. Plouffe, who himself worked for a 527, knows very well that the John Edwards campaign is completely independent and cannot control any outside group or communicate with it."
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