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Mellon gave Edwards a boost

Feds probe whether nonprofit's money went to girlfriend

- Staff Writer

Published: Sun, May. 03, 2009 06:02AM

Modified Sun, May. 03, 2009 03:58PM

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John Edwards marched toward the White House in 2006 seeking an arsenal of millions collected a little at a time.

He also gathered more ammunition, about $11 million, collected in larger chunks by nonprofit groups conceived and operated to further his aspirations. He also courted a girlfriend.

Federal investigators are trying to connect those dots, sifting through Edwards' financial records to probe whether he used any donations solicited for his campaign to keep quiet his affair with Rielle Hunter.

Outside help

John Edwards raised $43.9 million for his run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Other donations, however, came from other political organizations not restricted by limits on contributions. Some of them did not have to disclose donors.

Alliance for a New America

A nonprofit group that was formed to pay for advertising on issues aligned with John Edwards

Money raised

2008 $4.89 million

$3.48 million of that from Rachel "Bunny" Mellon

Center for Promise

and Opportunity

A nonprofit focused on discussions and seminars about poverty and national security. This organization funded Edwards trips abroad and across the nation and many of his early appearances in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Money raised

2005 $1.3 million

2006 $2.3 million

2007 $195,000

One America Committee

A political action committee supporting Edwards

Money raised

2006 $2.7 million

2008 $186,903

Sources: Opensecrets.org, Federal Election Commission,

Internal Revenue Service

Edwards, a Democrat and former U.S. senator, on Thursday acknowledged the investigation to The News & Observer.

"I am confident that no funds from my campaign were used improperly," Edwards said in a statement. "However, I know that it is the role of government to ensure that this is true. We have made available to the United States both the people and the information necessary to help them get the issue resolved efficiently and in a timely matter. We appreciate the diligence and professionalism of those involved and look forward to a conclusion."

Edwards declined to discuss the matter.

A review of Edwards' campaign money will turn up a cluster of nonprofits, some not subject to the same rules of transparency as official campaign organizations. Records of one that does disclose donors, the Alliance for a New America, show that Edwards' 2008 campaign got a huge boost from a single source: $3.48 million from a holding company for Rachel "Bunny" Lambert Mellon, a 98-year-old matriarch of the late industrialist Andrew Mellon's family.

The riches that bankrolled Edwards' bid for president will be tough to sort, campaign finance experts say.

"This may be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack," said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of Open Secrets, a campaign watchdog group. "John Edwards is a leader in misleading the public."

Records show that Hunter was paid by a political action committee aligned with Edwards. She received $114,000 to film Edwards as he hopscotched the nation to rally crowds in the fight against poverty. She followed him to Uganda, where he met with starving children orphaned by attacks by rebel forces. Her "webisodes" live still on the Internet.

The investigation is being conducted by the office of U.S. Attorney George Holding, and a federal grand jury could consider evidence. Holding, a Republican based in Raleigh, declined to comment on Edwards. Holding has helped prosecute several prominent Democrats.

His office is also investigating a real estate development and car deals involving former Gov. Mike Easley.

'Views resonated with her'

Bunny Mellon took a shine to Edwards in 2004, his first reach for the presidency, said Alexander Forger, attorney for her trust.

But as Edwards prepared for a second run for president in 2005 and 2006, Mellon and her trustees started opening their checkbooks.

Bunny Mellon's fortune is immense. The year before Paul Mellon died in 1999, Forbes magazine estimated his wealth at $1.4 billion. Bunny came to their marriage with money of her own as heiress to the Warner-Lambert fortune, a company now a part of Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company.

The Mellons long orbited a powerful inner circle. The couple entertained British royalty, including Queen Elizabeth, at their farm in Virginia's fox-hunting country. Bunny Mellon helped design the White House's rose garden at the behest of her dear friend Jacquelyn Kennedy Onassis.

Mostly, the Mellons' lives centered around two worlds: the arts and horses. Over the last century, the Mellons have given tens of millions of dollars to the arts, helping create the National Gallery of Art in Washington. They spent millions more on thoroughbred horses, winning racing crowns here and abroad.

mandy.locke@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8927

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