Dick Morris distorted facts on campaign finance to support his claim that “disaster is lurking” for Edwards

On July 7, Dick Morris wrote, in a New York Post column titled "Disaster is lurking," that Senator John Edwards's (D-NC) “massive” contributions from lawyers would haunt the Kerry-Edwards '04 ticket -- while Morris ignored that fact that President George W. Bush has taken just as much money from lawyers as has Edwards. Morris also made an unsubstantiated claim that contributions to Edwards from the spouses of his lawyer-donors may be illegal -- despite the Federal Election Commission's (FEC) statement that such contributions are permissible. Finally, Morris cited a Slate.com article reporting contributions from a Little Rock, AR, law firm to Edwards that “appear to have been illegal” -- while failing to note that the same article noted both that Edwards returned those donations and that there was no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Edwards or his campaign.

Morris wrote, “During his run for the top job, John Edwards relied heavily on leading trial lawyers. Twenty-two of his top 25 donors were trial attorneys. And those donations likely cloak a multitude of sins and violations of the campaign-finance laws.” If Edwards's $9.3 million in contributions from lawyers “likely” cloak a “multitude of sins and violations of the campaign finance laws,” what lies behind President Bush's $9.2 million in contributions from lawyers? How about Bush's $6.9 million from the securities and investment industry -- more than twice as much as Kerry '04's and Edwards '04's combined?

Morris went on to suggest other illegalities in addition to the allegedly illegal Little Rock law firm contributions: “For example, $1 million of Edwards' funds came from trial lawyers' wives -- identified merely as ” homemakers" in the campaign-finance filings. If the money came from their husbands, there could be a violation of law." If there's something wrong with taking money from homemakers, one wonders why Morris didn't mention how much money Bush has taken from them. A search in the Center for Responsive Politics' campaign-finance database for “homemakers” who have given to Bush's presidential campaign returns more than 1,000 results.

Not that there's anything wrong with that: The Federal Election Commission's Supporting Federal Candidates brochure specifically states: “A husband and wife each have separate contribution limits, even if only one spouse has an income.

Morris also noted that an August 2003 Slate.com article by chief political correspondent William Saletan and intern Ben Jacobs reported that contributions from employees at Little Rock lawyer Tab Turner's firm to Edwards's presidential campaign “appear to have been illegal.” What Morris neglected to note was that, in the same Slate.com article, Saletan and Jacobs also reported that Edwards's presidential campaign “returned the $10,000 it had received from Turner employees” and that “no evidence had been produced to show that the Edwards campaign knew any of the contributions were illegal.” In addition, the same Slate.com article noted that The Washington Post, which investigated employees who had donated to Edwards's campaign from other law firms, “found no indication that these donors had been reimbursed.” Further, as Saletan and Jacobs noted, the Los Angeles Times reported the following on April 25, 2003: “There has been no suggestion that the Edwards campaign, or Edwards himself, did anything wrong.” Nevertheless, Morris asked: “How many more stories like Turner's are there buried in Edwards' filings?”

So what is Dick Morris talking about? Why is Edwards's $9.3 million from lawyers and law firms a liability but Bush's $9.2 million is not? How did Morris come up with his figure of "$1 million" in contributions to Edwards from “homemakers” ? How much has Bush taken from “homemakers” ? And why does it matter, given that the FEC specifically sanctions contributions from both spouses, even if only one has an income? Morris provides his readers no answers to these questions; instead, he simply hints darkly of “trial-lawyer donations blow[ing] up in Edwards' face.”

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