Kerry's Choice Could Backfire

Kerry’s choice of John Edwards as his vice presidential candidate is getting predictable, but sincere applause from Democrats, relieved that some charisma will enliven their presidential ticket. But the initial positive reaction may not last long as the Bush campaign zeroes in on Edwards’ vulnerability: His presidential campaign contributors.

During his run for the top job, John Edwards relied heavily on the campaign contributions of leading trial lawyers.  Twenty-two of his top twenty-five donors were trial attorneys.  By itself, this preponderance from one sector would not hurt Edwards, but these donations likely cloak a multitude of sins and violations of the campaign finance laws.

Edwards’ trial lawyers bundled massive contributions from their assorted law firms and client lists to float his presidential campaign.  Bundling is not illegal.  But it crosses over the line when the donors are straw men and women putting up money given to them by a wealthy patron.

"Apparent positives could be overcome by big-time negatives if the trial lawyer donations blow up in Edwards’ face."

For example, one million of Edwards’ funds come from wives of trial lawyers who are identified merely as “homemakers” in the campaign finance filings.  If the money came from their husbands, there could be a violation of law.

More significant is the example of Little Rock trial lawyer Tad Turner whose firm gave $200,000 to the Edwards campaign and his 527 committees. But Slate Magazine reported, on August 29, 2003 that many of the “contributions…appear to be illegal.”  The online magazine reported that “one clerk who gave $2,000 said that Turner had ‘asked for people to support Edwards’ and assured them ‘he would reimburse us.’”  Another clerk told much the same story. As a result of the exposure, Edwards returned $10,000 to Turner employees. Tad Turner himself – a noted trial lawyer – said that he didn’t know his promise of reimbursement was illegal.

How many more stories like Turner’s are there buried in Edwards’ campaign filings? Probably the Bush campaign’s negative research people have a full list and their operatives will be crawling all over the trial lawyers’ firms to find any other donations that were similarly disguised.  More than half of Edwards’ donations came from trial lawyers, so they will have a vast ground to pick over looking for scandal.

Vice-presidential candidates have a way of blowing up in the face of the campaign.  The revelations of the psychiatric treatment of Senator Thomas Eagleton that came out after he was picked by Senator George McGovern for his 1972 ticket forced him off the ticket and doomed McGovern’s candidacy.  Geraldine Ferraro’s designation by Walter Mondale in 1972 was widely hailed until the Reagan folks had a field day picking apart her husband’s financial operations.  Bush Sr. only narrowly survived the questions that engulfed Dan Quayle after he was chosen for the 1988 ticket.

A vice president is really a presidential nominee’s first appointment, widely seen as an indication of what kind of administration and cabinet he would appoint.  Kerry’s choice of Edwards sends all the right messages.  That Kerry, a Northern liberal, has chosen Edwards, a Southern moderate as his running mate bespeaks the potential of a centrist administration, much to the relief of most Americans.  Worries about Kerry’s liberalism will be assuaged by the choice of Edwards, and the North Carolina Senator will lend a dash and attractiveness to the ticket.

These apparent positives could be overcome by big-time negatives if the trial lawyer donations blow up in Edwards’ face. No presidential candidate would relish having to spend the first month of his campaign explaining away the donations his vice-presidential candidate took in his race for the top job, but that could be exactly how John Kerry will have to spend the next few weeks. 

Dick Morris is a political contributor for FOX News Channel. Earlier in his career, Morris was a campaign consultant for Clinton’s Arkansas gubernatorial campaigns. And he has advised a wide range of political leaders, including Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., Republican Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Tx and former New York City Mayors Ed Koch.

Dick Morris is a Fox News contributor and author. His latest book is "Here Come the Black Helicopters: UN Global Governance and the Loss of Freedom." Visit his website: and follow him on Twitter@DickMorrisTweet. Click here to sign up to get all of Dick's videos emailed to you.