WRAL Investigates

Expert: Money used to hide Edwards' affair may have broken law

Posted February 4, 2010 5:17 p.m. EST
Updated February 4, 2010 7:17 p.m. EST

— A political science professor said Thursday that any money used to cover up an extramarital affair by two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards likely broke federal campaign finance laws.

A federal grand jury in Raleigh has been investigating whether any money from the Edwards campaign was used illegally to hide the affair with Rielle Hunter.

Andrew Young, a former Edwards aide, said more than $1 million was spent to conceal the affair with Hunter, a campaign staffer hired to produce promotional videos.

"I heard one of the jets to get Rielle out of the country cost $55,000 to $60,000," Young told WRAL News.

Rachel "Bunny" Mellon, heiress to the fortunes of 19th century industrialist Andrew Mellon and the founder of the Warner-Lambert pharmaceutical company, gave Edwards at least $700,000 to cover expenses for Hunter, according to Young. He said Texas lawyer Fred Baron, who was Edwards' campaign finance chairman, funded other expenses.

"We were living in a house that I co-signed with Fred that was $20,000 a month," Young said, noting that his family went into hiding with Hunter in California in 2007.

At the time, Hunter was pregnant, and Young claimed to be the father of the child. Edwards admitted last month that he was the father of Hunter's daughter, who turns 2 this month.

"Fred supported John as long as he was a viable candidate," Young said.

The money was given on the side, not as campaign donations, Young said, adding that Baron knew what it was for but that Mellon did not.

"Bunny never knew what the money was for. She knew it was for an outside campaign expense," he said.

Still, Peace College political science professor David McLennan said that the money could still be considered a campaign expense in the eyes of the law because the motivation behind the donation was to get the candidate elected.

"If you look at federal election law related to campaigns, it says any gift influencing the outcome of an election needs to be reported," McLennan said. "I think there's a very important message when you're talking about what happened with the money in terms of trying to influence the election."

Wade Smith, Edwards' lawyer, previously said that no campaign funds were used to conceal the affair, but he recently declined to stand by that statement.

"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to talk about it at all," Smith told WRAL News. "It's a logical question, and I understand why you would ask it, but it would be inappropriate for me to talk about that."

Young testified last summer to the grand jury. He said he was asked about checks that went through a foundation with ties to Edwards.

Hunter spent nine hours in the federal courthouse in Raleigh last August on a day when the grand jury was meeting, but it's unclear whether she testified since grand jury proceedings are secret.

Baron died of cancer in 2008.

Edwards visited Mellon's Virginia farm in December, but neither he nor Smith would disclose the purpose of the trip.