FEC Fines Ark. Law Firm For Donations to Edwards

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Sunday, June 25, 2006

There was something fishy, skeptics noted at the time, about all those maximum contributions flowing to John Edwards's then-presidential campaign from modestly paid clerks and paralegals.

Three years after the controversy arose, the Federal Election Commission agreed. The regulatory agency last week announced that Tab Turner, a prominent trial lawyer, and his Little Rock law firm have agreed to pay a $50,000 penalty for violating a federal law that prohibits corporate contributions and contributions made in the name of another person.

The FEC also announced that Edwards for President, the principal committee for the North Carolina Democrat's 2004 campaign, agreed to pay a $9,500 penalty for accepting in-kind contributions from Turner's firm and contributions made by Turner in the name of relatives.

The suspicions about the real origins of the Edwards contributions emerged a few months after they were made in the first half of 2003, early in his presidential bid. Edwards is considering running again in 2008.

In January 2003, the FEC said, employees of Turner's law firm worked with Edwards's staff to plan two fundraisers in Arkansas as part of their duties. Turner instructed his assistant to ask four other employees to make $2,000 contributions to the campaign (the maximum allowed by federal law) and then to reimburse them. Turner used his firm's credit card to give Edwards $2,000 and to make $2,000 donations in the name of his brother and sister-in-law, the FEC said. The agency said he also charged nearly $2,400 in hotel and rental car expenses for travel by Edwards's staff.

A spokeswoman for Edwards, Kim Rubey, called the development "very old news" and said these were "issues dealt with long ago." Turner's firm said: "Although not in agreement with all the conclusions reached by the FEC, Turner & Associates is pleased to have worked with the FEC to resolve this matter."

When news accounts revealed the transactions in April 2003, the Edwards campaign said it had not known of any improprieties. It returned all the contributions from employees of Turner's firm.

Before campaign finance laws enacted in 2002 banned "soft money" contributions, Turner and his firm donated $200,000 to Edwards's New American Optimists political action committee.

College Students' Malaise

Commentators have noted that the finale of "American Idol" this year attracted more votes than any U.S. president ever won. A new poll of college students -- a prime audience -- may suggest why: They just don't believe Washington politicians have done a good job of fixing the country's problems.

The majority think the nation is headed in the wrong direction, and nearly three-quarters are not interested in seeking national office.

The poll was conducted last month by the Panetta Institute, a nonpartisan public policy center in California run by former chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, Leon E. Panetta, and Panetta's wife, Sylvia, who surveyed 800 college students. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

"This survey shows they continue not to be interested, but it comes at a time when they are a lot more concerned about what's happening in the country," Panetta said in an interview. "I'm really worried about losing a generation of young people working in public service."

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