Jeff Smith: Your Tax Dollars at Work, Prosecuting (& Potentially Incarcerating) John Edwards

If John Edwards goes to prison, then many other politicians should join him, according to the Department of Justice’s logic.


I have a friend, for instance, who during his first campaign unintentionally did almost exactly what Edwards did. After my friend’s first campaign event, the host pulled him aside and said, “Great job! But, can I be candid with you?”


Sure.” Sure, he said, wondering if his rhetoric had been too strong for some in the room.


OK. Please don’t be angry,” she said. “But people think you look like a kid, not somebody who could be in Congress. Your suit’s too big. Your shirt is threadbare, your slacks look like rags, and your shoes are scuffed. Basically, you like a boy in your dad’s hand-me-downs. Oh, and you really need a haircut. Your hair looks like a hornet’s nest. You‘ve gotta go see my girl Melissa, she can help you.”


My friend went to Melissa for the duration of the campaign, and her handiwork was by all accounts a huge improvement. Melissa refused to charge him, no matter how vehemently he tried to pay her.


A few weeks later my friend ran into his high school tennis coach, who also commented on his suit. “You can’t go around looking like that,” said the coach, and gave my friend several stylish suits and blazers that he hadn’t worn in years, with instructions on where to get them altered.


Little did my friend know that he had his own Bunny Mellon and Fred Baron, on a slightly smaller scale. And like John Edwards, he neglected to report these gifts on his FEC filings. (FEC rules state that any gift to a federal candidate that is meant to influence an election and which has not been given routinely prior to the benefactor’s candidacy must be reported.)

But if Lanny Breuer, the Assistant AG who is prosecuting John Edwards, has anything to say about it, there will be a precedent set for candidates, even those like my friend – neophytes who know precious little about the intricacies of federal campaign finance law. Any failure to report such gifts would merit a felony charge and, potentially, prison time.


Let’s lay out a few pertinent facts about the Edwards case.

A centenarian billionaire gave almost a million bucks to help him hide his pregnant mistress while he ran for president. Edwards failed to inform his campaign treasurer about these gifts.

Who was hurt here – other than Elizabeth Edwards?

We can agree that John Edwards make a mistake by succumbing to the “charms” of a bleach-blonde New Age party-girl who approached him (“You’re so hot”) at a NYC hotel bar one evening. And he compounded this initial mistake with many more along the way. By carrying on an affair as his wife’s cancer progressed, he was appallingly self-indulgent and callous. By running for president while concealing it, he became one of the highest-stakes gamblers in history, literally risking the nation’s well-being on a Houdini-like escape from this tangled web.

But that doesn’t mean the government should have spent two years and millions of dollars to prosecute him.

The crux of the case is that Edwards failed to report the “gifts” as campaign contributions. However, no Bunny-money ever touched any of John Edwards’s campaign or personal accounts. Prosecutors don’t even allege that it did. And apparently Ms. Mellon even paid gift taxes on the money. So should Edwards really be prosecuted and potentially incarcerated for misleading his campaign staff about the fact that a billionaire kept his mistress living in style?

Is there anyone in the country who doesn’t think John Edwards is a world-class heel? Probably not.

Would you like to help pay the millions of dollars for his prosecution and possible incarceration? I didn’t think so.


As regular readers knowI lied to federal agents about my knowledge of a postcard that was mailed out by an independent group during my 2004 congressional campaign. With my knowledge, one of my aides had given publicly available information about my opponent’s legislative attendance record to the independent operator, a fact that my aides and I hid from investigators. The wire worn by one of my best friends for two months in 2009 revealed my awareness of the plan to send the mailer, along with the fact that I frequently use four-letter words.

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Jeff Smith: Your Tax Dollars at Work, Prosecuting (& Potentially Incarcerating) John Edwards

BREAKING: Jeff Smith & The RP Featured in New York’s “Approval Matrix”

Pardon the interruption for some HUGE RP NEWS:

Contributing RP Jeff Smith, his stunning inaugural piece on his journey from politics to prison, and The Recovering Politician Web site, were highlighted this week by New York magazine’s The Approval Matrix, a leading national arbiter of the pop culture zeitgeist. (And now a TV show on Bravo.)

Best yet — Smith’s piece received the top rating: The Approval Matrix deemed it “Highbrow” (vs. “Lowbrow”) and “Brilliant” (vs. “Despicable”).

A pretty incredible development for a contributing recovering politician just beginning his second act and a Web site in only its third week.

Here is the screenshot of the top right corner of the matrix — click on it to read the entire page at the New York web site:

Jeff Smith: Learning Entrepreneurship in Jail

Our own Contributing RP, Jeff Smith, may have never dreamed that any good would come from his required stay at a federal prison. But the unlikeliest of environments proved to be an unexpected fountain of entrepreneurial spirit.

Jeff writes about what he learned in this week’s Inc. magazine:

B.J. was one of many fellow inmates with big plans for the future. He vowed that upon his release, he’d leave the dope game and fly straight. He’d recently purchased a porn website targeted at men with a fetish for women having sex on top of or inside luxury cars, with a special focus that explained his nickname. For just $10,000, he had purchased the domain name, the site design, and all of the necessary back-end work enabling financial transactions. The only component B.J. needed to supply were the women, and due to his incarceration, he’d named his 19-year-old son “vice president for personnel and talent development” and charged him with overseeing auditions. Who says a good old-fashioned family business can’t make it anymore?

It was my first week in a federal prison, and I was beginning to see that it was far more nuanced than the hotbed of sex, drugs, and violence depicted on television documentaries. It was teeming with ambitious, street-smart men, many who appear to have been very successful drug dealers on the outside, and some of whom possess business instincts as sharp as those of the CEOs who wined and dined me six months before. Using somewhat different jargon than you might hear at Wharton, they discussed business concepts such as promotional incentives (“I don’t never charge no first-time user”), quality control and new product launches (“you try anything new, you better have some longtime crackhead test your new shit”), territorial expansion (“Once Dude on the East Side got chalked, I had my dopeboys out on his corners befo’ that motherf—er’s  body was cold”), and even barriers to entry (“Any motherf—er that wanna do bidness on the West Side know me and my boys ain’t scurred to cap his ass”).

Read the rest of Jeff’s insightful piece here.

Jeff Smith: The Long and Winding Journey to My Second Act

One year ago, I arrived in the small town of Manchester, Kentucky, a scenic spot tucked deep in an Appalachian mountain hollow, where I would be spending most of 2010. Before I was shown my new digs, the staff processed me. That meant going repeatedly through the standard battery of questions. The third questioner finished and sent me to a heavyset woman.

“Height and weight?” she asked.

“5’6”, 120.”

She examined my slight frame and frowned. “Education level?”

I winced. “Ph.D.”

She shot me a skeptical look. “Last profession?”

“State Senator.”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, I’ll put it down if you want. If you wanna play games, play games. We got ones who think they’re Jesus Christ, too.”

She then sent me to the counselor, a small sandy-haired man wearing a light blue polo shirt and a wispy mustache. He flipped through the pre-sentencing report, pausing briefly to absorb the summary of the case, and shook his head. “This is crazy,” he said quietly, without looking at me. “You shouldn’t be here. Waste of time. Money. Space.”

A guard approached and escorted me to a bathroom without a door. Then another guard appeared. Gruff and morbidly obese, he spoke in a thick Kentucky drawl. “Stree-ip,” he commanded. I stripped.

“Tern’round,” he barked. I turned around.

“Open up yer prison wallet,” he ordered.

I looked at him quizzically.

“Tern’round and open yer butt cheeks.”

I complied.

“Alright, you’s good to go.” he said.

I wasn’t Senator Smith anymore, or Professor Smith. I was #36607-044.

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Jeff Smith: The Long and Winding Journey to My Second Act

The Award-Winning Documentary about Jeff’s Early Career (2006):

The Recent New Republic Article About Jeff (2011):

Jeff’s Links: