Edwards case complained that he was prosecuted under a “novel” view of campaign-finance law. Apparently, it was so new jurors couldn’t agree on what it was and whether Edwards broke it. Now the murky conclusion of the jury’s deliberations – acquittal on one count, no unanimous agreement on the remaining five – leaves it equally unclear whether the case will change how campaign contributions and expenses are defined and reported going forward. Edwards was accused of receiving excessive contributions from two benefactors to hide his mistress, and failing to report the money as campaign contributions. At least some jurors accepted his defense that the monies were gifts to help with a personal situation and were not campaign contributions. Experts in campaign-finance law are divided about whether the trial will stand as an isolated event or one that will widen the definition of a campaign contribution.
“It’s such an odd and idiosyncratic case that it will probably have no bearing on the law,” said Thomas E. Mann, a political scientist with the Brookings Institution who specializes in campaign funding.
Mann said the funding landscape has changed dramatically since Edwards benefited from the donations during his campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. In 2010, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowed corporations and unions to make independent political expenditures. That change has allowed corporations and unions to give unlimited amounts to aid candidates through super PACs. “Given the incredible ability that now exists for huge amounts of money to work on behalf of individual candidates, (the Edwards case) is unlikely to have relevance to subsequent cases,” Mann said.