How the jury views those points will matter greatly to Edwards. Closing arguments are set to begin Thursday. But the Citizens United ruling has made the trial seem like a window onto a bygone era.
In the Citizens United case, the Supreme Court ruled that groups that are not connected with candidates can solicit and use campaign dollars for campaign activity, so long as it is not coordinated by a candidate. The ruling opened the floodgates for so-called "super political-action committees," which raise and spend millions of dollars to advocate on behalf of an issue or a candidate, though they are not actually affiliated with the candidate’s campaign.
In the Edwards trial, the defense has argued that Edwards didn’t actually coordinate the money transfers from millionairess Bunny Mellon to an account that Edwards’s mistress, Rielle Hunter, could use as a former campaign aide shuttled her around the country. This, to some experts, sounds like activity that would now be legal under super PACs.
“If we lived in a different world and this money had gone to a nonconnected valid [super PAC], there would be no problem here,” says Donald Tobin, a law professor at the Moritz School of Law at Ohio State University in Columbus. “This was not express advocacy … it’s not electioneering, and it doesn’t even feel like a campaign contribution.”
“A 501c(4) [super PAC] could say this is a nonconnected association of individuals allowed to engage in noncoordinated campaign activity,” he says.
Not everyone shares that view. If Edwards actually were involved, “then there’s coordination, so independent spending wouldn’t come into play,” says Rick Hasen, a law professor and campaign-finance expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.