Highly-Selective Nature of Edwards' Refunds is Questioned
NOT Their Legality
"I donated what I consider to be a significant sum of money to John Edwards, but I am not an lawyer. Is there a website address where I can apply for a refund?
Is there a deadline for applying for refunds? I would appreciate any help anyone can give me."
--Iowa Pensioner, in a comment to our earlier story, Edwards’ Campaign Quietly Refunds Contributions to Bundlers, Big Backers
Who in the John Edwards' campaign speaks for Iowa Pensioner and her America?
Is Iowa Pensioner a lone voice crying in a wilderness full of Edwards' apologists and would-be FEC lawyers?
UPDATES, if any at DBKP: John Edwards Campaign Refunds: More Questions than Answers
Our stories earlier today [Edwards’ Campaign Quietly Refunds Contributions to Bundlers, Big Backers & John Edwards Scandal: Many Big Edwards Donors Got Refunds in March] caused a bit of a stir.
PJ Gladnick at Newsbusters, immediately got our point and put it in his headline,[Web Scoops MSM: Edwards Refunds Contributions to One of His Americas]. So did Moonbattery's Van Helsing:
The disgraced John Edwards has proven himself right about there being two Americas: one is rich enough to get their campaign donations quietly refunded; the other is poor enough to ignore. Following Warren Buffet's warning that donors could give the ambulance-chasing Breck Girl a dose of his own medicine with a class action lawsuit, DBKP reports:
As well as Tom McGuire, at Just One Minute: "Wouldn't that buttress a class-action lawsuit? Why is Edwards taking care of his fat-cat bundlers but not reimbursing Joe Lunchbucket's $100? Troubling."
Paleo Pat puts it thus: "It seems that John Edwards is giving much of his money back to the “Big Bundlers” some of whom are convicted felons." Snoop, at Political Party Poop, saw the irony: "LOL!"
Everyone else, including Edwards' apologists and campaign ho-hummers: let's be clear and drop the word games. We're not (and weren't in our earlier stories) questioning the legality of the refunds, but the highly-selective nature of who received their money back.
One reader wrote: "This would have been a real scoop if big contributors were getting refunds but little contributors weren’t after Edwards confessed to his affair. The true explanation appears to be pretty mundane."
If there is truly "mundane", then why did only ONE CLASS of contributors receive their money back? We have our doubts about how "mundane" the explanation is to small Edwards' contributors.
Of the 2247 contributions returned as of July 31, 2008: only 125 of these were for UNDER $100 dollars (discounting multiple donations that may have included a donation for under $100). Most of these smaller donations went to lawyers, doctors and others with substantial incomes.
Why did only contributors from One of Edwards' Two Americas get their money back?
We will wait for an answer.
We spoke with the FEC and the Center for Responsive Politics this afternoon. Again, nothing illegal (we're sorry if we left that impression, but upon re-checking our stories, the word "illegal" does not appear in either.) was implied. What was not implied, but asked quite directly: WHY did the multi-millionaires--mostly trial lawyers--get their money back in such a timely manner?
We appeal to former Edwards' supporters: did you know that you could apply to the campaign for a refund? Did you know that if you designated your contribution for the general election, you would get a refund? Were you, as an Edwards' contributor, informed by the campaign at any time--especially after Edwards' August 8 Nightline appearance--that you could ask for your money back?
At the Edwards' campaign website, there are no instructions whatsoever to help the little guys in obtaining a refund.
The person at the FEC that we spoke to was somewhat helpful:
"If the candidate drops out after the primaries, then all contributions designated for the general election--not the primary election--then the contributions, by law, have to be refunded to the contributors. If the individual contributor wants a refund of his/her donation made for the primary election, it's up to the discretion of the campaign whether to make the refund."
We were directed to this FEC document for further questions. Although it's labeled for "Congressional campaigns", we were told the "same rules apply to presidential campaigns." The only item concerning "refunds" was found on page 182 of the pdf document:
Refunded Contribution—A contribution is refunded when the recipient committee first deposits the contribution and later sends the contributor a check for the entire amount (or a portion) of the contribution. 103.3(b). Compare with definition of returned contribution.
Returned Contribution—A contribution is returned when the recipient committee sends the original check (or other negotiable instrument) back to the contributor, without depositing it. 103.3(a). Compare with definition of refunded contribution.
It seems we're back to our original question: if it's largely up to the discretion of the campaign, then why did the Edwards' campaign's discretion favor the large contributors?
Again, why did some of the biggest contributors receive money back for both the primary and general election?
Massie Ritsch, of the Center for Responsive Politics, was very helpful both in a phone conversation and in emails he sent from Denver, where he's attending the Democrat convention. CRP is looking into the refund process also, as there seems to be not much written on it (as we discovered while writing our original stories).
But Massie was very clear on a possible remedy for disaffected Edwards' donors:
"There might be plenty of trial lawyers that supported John Edwards willing to take that [class action] case."
"It's like a corporation," Massie continued, "that takes money from investors and doesn't inform them of all they know."
1 How many non-lawyers were aware that they had to designate their contributions for use in the general election to get them back by law?
2 Why were the overwhelming majority of people who received refunds big donors? Some of these donors apparently received back their contributions from both the primary and general elections: if this was at the discretion of the campaign, why were only large contributors from One of the Two Americas considered?
There is some redundancy in the above paragraphs, but it's there for a reason: it's not the illegality of the refunds that interest us; it's the highly-selective nature of who received them.
Why did Fred Baron receive his money back and not Iowa Pensioner? Why did Michael Eisner get a refund and not "emma" who wrote: "“…and i gave $500 to his campaign which went to pay for his whore’s meals! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!”?
Why did Dean Hanley, of Berkeley CA, get his $6900 back in two separate refunds, while GA Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield ($750) didn't?
Our earlier stories also piqued the interest of Walter Olsen, Overlawyered:
Ted must be feeling prescient regarding his speculations about an Edwards-contributor refund class action now that Warren Buffett has weighed in on the idea [Kaus]. And in fact the Edwards campaign does seem to be refunding some contributions in interesting ways, if one account pans out (bundlers! Thomas Girardi! John O’Quinn!) [DBKP, more, yet more]
John Edwards spoke on the campaign trail of the Two Americas, poverty and helping the poor vs. the rich.
When it came time for his campaign to put its money where his mouth was, it was clear which of his Two America got their money back.
Who speaks for those people now?
image: dbkp file