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Election Law Expert Jan Baran Discusses the Indictment of Sen. John Edwards

NPR, USA Today, Politico, San Francisco Chronicle
June 8, 2011

Jan Baran, co-chair of Wiley Rein’s Election Law & Government Ethics Practice, was quoted in several publications regarding the indictment of former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) on campaign finance charges. Sen. Edwards has been accused of using campaign donations to cover an up an affair with a former campaign aide. Many election law experts have expressed doubt about the ability to prosecute the case. “I don’t think there’s been a criminal case with similar facts brought by the Department of Justice,” Mr. Baran told USA Today. “The idea of going to trial on a pure campaign finance count is unusual because those types of cases—99 times out of 100—get resolved through plea agreements. I’m under the impression [prosecutors] win more often than lose, but not by as wide a margin as in corruption cases generally,” he told Politico. Mr. Baran noted that “it’s a lot easier to get a conviction when there’s an odor of a quid pro quo for illegal contributions…or if there’s a whiff of defrauding the government. Where there’s not something like that, I think it’s a little harder for the government to explain what the inherent evil is.” Adding to the unusual nature of the case is determining whether Sen. Edwards knew about the donations. “Almost always the candidates are not aware of the illegal nature of the donations and therefore are not the subject of prosecutions,” Mr. Baran told NPR’s All Things Considered

Prosecutors allege that two wealthy donors sent nearly $1 million to an Edwards aide to pass along to his mistress. They also allege that they concealed the purpose of the money by sending cash and checks that were said to be for chairs, a book case, or an antique table. “If they’re trying to hide something,” Mr. Baran said to NPR, “one would have to ask, why are they doing it that way? Are they doing it because they’re trying to hide it from an accountant or hide it from a spouse or hide it from law enforcement authorities?” “We have a pretty rigorous campaign finance system. The $2,300 limit seems a little quaint if wealthy donors can funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit a candidate outside the campaign,” he told San Francisco Chronicle.