A potential 2004 Democratic presidential candidate who shunned donations from political action committees as a candidate for Senate and has criticized PACs in his push for campaign finance reform has now established a PAC of his own.

Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., has created the "New American Optimists" to raise money and make contributions to help elect Democrats who share his views. The PAC will also pay for Edwards' travel in the coming years.

The move is politically awkward for Edwards, since he has refused PAC donations in the past and accused PAC and special interest money of corrupting the political process.

Aides to Edwards said he has insisted that his new PAC will be subject to the same restrictions he puts on himself and that his PAC will not accept PAC money or donations from lobbyists.

Edwards 2004?

As Fox News first reported in July, Edwards has been holding private meetings with political activists in New Hampshire and Iowa, where the first presidential primary and caucus will be held in three years.

Edwards has enlisted Erskine Bowles to serve as chairman of his PAC. Bowles was former President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff and is a highly respected investment banker in Charlotte, N.C.

The PAC treasurer will be Jeanette Hyde of Raleigh, N.C., a former Clinton ambassador to Barbados.

PACs are often used by presidential candidates and party leaders as vehicles to rack up favors with political players who can be helpful around the country for future campaigns and political initiatives.

Edwards' aides are quick to point out that N.C.'s other senator, Republican Jesse Helms, also has a PAC.