- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 16, 2008

New questions emerged Friday about John Edwards‘ longtime chief fundraiser and the secret efforts that protected the pregnant woman with whom the former presidential candidate has admitted an affair in 2006.

Fred Baron, Mr. Edwards’ national finance chairman and a wealthy Dallas-based trial attorney, has acknowledged that he quietly began sending money to Rielle Hunter, Mr. Edwards’ mistress, as well as to the family of Andrew Young. Mr. Young is the campaign aide who has said he is the father of Miss Hunter’s daughter, born after her affair with Mr. Edwards.

But Mr. Baron is far more intertwined in the matter than previously known, with long-standing personal connections to the lawyers who represented Miss Hunter and Mr. Young, according to a review of legal findings by the Associated Press. Miss Hunter’s lawyer, Robert J. Gordon of New York, was sued unsuccessfully with Mr. Baron and Mr. Baron’s law firm in 2001 in U.S. District Court in New York in a racketeering complaint. Mr. Young’s lawyer, Pamela J. Marple of Washington, was among three lawyers who defended Mr. Baron and his firm. The case was dismissed in December 2005.

Mr. Baron didn’t return a phone call or respond to an e-mail from the AP on Friday.

The relationships among Mr. Baron, Miss Marple and Mr. Gordon were first reported in Friday’s editions of the New York Times. The newspaper said Mr. Baron acknowledged that he might have played a role in hiring Miss Marple and Mr. Gordon in the Edwards scandal, after initially saying he did not know how the lawyers were chosen.

Meanwhile, an earlier payment of $14,000 to Mr. Edwards’ mistress from the candidate’s political action committee was exchanged for 100 hours of unused videotape that she shot producing short Web movies for which she already had been paid $100,000, an Edwards associate told the AP. Neither Mr. Edwards’ advisers nor this associate would discuss the purpose of the payment on the record.

That payment from Mr. Edwards’ OneAmerica political action committee (PAC), which came after Miss Hunter stopped working for it, came in April 2007, months before Mr. Baron quietly began sending money himself to Miss Hunter. Mr. Baron has described his payments to Miss Hunter as a private transaction.

Mr. Edwards acknowledged last week that he had an affair with Miss Hunter in 2006. The former Democratic presidential contender and senator from North Carolina has denied any knowledge of payments from Mr. Baron to Miss Hunter.

Mr. Baron’s payments could present legal problems, said Washington attorney Cleta Mitchell, who specializes in campaign-finance law and who represents Republican candidates and conservative groups. She said all payments to anyone involved in Mr. Edwards’ presidential campaigns - including Miss Hunter and Mr. Young - should have been fully disclosed under U.S. campaign-finance laws.

“That would undermine the purpose of the payments, which was to avoid public disclosure of the affair,” Miss Mitchell said. “The idea that Edwards’ finance chairman can independently hand over substantial sums of money to two campaign workers at a time when Edwards is a candidate and to argue that that is not related to his campaign is a bit preposterous.”

The earlier, $14,000 payment to Miss Hunter is significant because its source was Mr. Edwards’ OneAmerica political action committee, whose expenditures are governed by U.S. election laws. Willfully converting political action committee money to personal use would have been a federal criminal violation.

An associate of Mr. Edwards, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the $14,000 was paid to Miss Hunter only after she relinquished about 100 hours of cutting-room floor videotape excerpts that were not part of four short Web videos that she had produced for Midline Groove Ltd., a company Miss Hunter started with a business partner in 2006.

When Miss Hunter provided the last of more than 100 hours of footage, the firm was paid as contracted for, said the Edwards associate.

Legal experts said it was important for Mr. Edwards to demonstrate that the PAC wasn’t paying Miss Hunter merely to keep her quiet about the affair.

“One thing that’s possible is that she was still owed money from what she’d done before for the political action committee, but obviously there are less charitable explanations,” said Richard Hasen, a professor specializing in campaign finance law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

Mr. Edwards, who made millions as a personal-injury lawyer, has relied heavily on fellow lawyers to finance his political career. And no single law firm has been more generous than Mr. Baron’s. Through Mr. Edwards’ election to the Senate from North Carolina and his 2004 presidential bid, the Dallas firm had donated $419,650 to help Mr. Edwards win elections, according to the Center for Public Integrity.

Mr. Baron, a former president of the main national trade association for trial lawyers and a longtime Democratic donor and fundraiser, was Mr. Edwards’ finance chairman in both his 2004 and 2008 campaigns for the presidential nomination.

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