Edwards Says Work for Hedge Fund Shouldn't Overshadow His Efforts on Poverty

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards argued on Tuesday that his work for a hedge fund shouldn't overshadow his efforts on poverty and other issues after the 2004 campaign.

"If you look at what I've done since the last election, it is true that I did consulting work for a hedge fund, part time," Edwards told The Associated Press in a brief interview. "It's also true that I started a poverty center at the University of North Carolina, that I led minimum wage initiatives in six states — all successful — that I started a college-for-everyone program for poor communities in eastern North Carolina, that I helped organize thousands of workers into unions, that I did humanitarian work in Africa."

Edwards, the Democrats' 2004 vice presidential nominee, again declined to say how much money he was paid for his yearlong position with the New York-based Fortress Investment Group. "It will come out when the disclosure comes out," Edwards said, referring to financial reports due Tuesday.

Last week, in an interview with the AP, Edwards said he worked for a hedge fund between presidential campaigns to learn about financial markets and their relationship to poverty — and to make money too.

Fortress reported assets of about $35.1 billion as of Dec. 31, 2006. Hedge funds, now numbering more than 9,000 in the U.S. with assets estimated to exceed $1 trillion, traditionally cater to the rich, as well as pension funds and university endowments, but are increasingly luring less wealthy investors.

Edwards said his work at Fortress should be put into context with the anti-poverty work he's undertaken since he and John Kerry made a failed run for the White House.

"If you look at all the things I've done since the last election, it's pretty clear where my commitment is," he said.

Questions have arisen about Fortress and subprime mortgages, which open up homeownership to people who otherwise can't buy a house because of little money for a down payment or weak credit.

In mid-March, Newcastle Investment Corp., a real estate investment trust managed by Fortress, got into the subprime mortgage market as other players fled the credit crunch, agreeing to buy a $1.7 billion portfolio of about 7,300 subprime mortgages.

Edwards was in Iowa to announce the support of 1,500 women caucus-goers. In the interview, Edwards said the experience he gained in the 2004 Iowa caucuses has taught him the need for a grass-roots organization in the state.

"I can tell you I've been through this," he said. "I'm experienced and seasoned at what it takes to organize in Iowa."

Although his main Democratic rivals, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, draw larger crowds, Edwards said is focused more on organizing. Such work paid off in a surprising second-place showing in Iowa in 2004 and will pay dividends again, he said.

Only about 100,000 Democratic activists will likely show up to decide the caucuses on Jan. 14, and most will have met at least one of the candidates. Edwards said the comfort level he's built with activists over the years is a distinct advantage.

"I think the importance of it is that people in Iowa — caucus-goers — feel like they know me, they know Elizabeth," said Edwards. "That comfort level makes it easier for them to hear what you want to do as president. It doesn't yet mean they are for you, but it means they are more receptive to what you have to say."

Tuesday's visit was Edwards' 23rd to Iowa since the 2004 election.