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Is John Edwards verdict the last straw for campaign finance?

A jury found John Edwards not guilty of the most serious charge, and the judge declared a mistrial on the others. The verdict is part of the changing landscape of campaign finance, experts say.

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Former Sen. John Edwards makes a statement with his daughter, Cate Edwards (l.), father Wallace Edwards (c.), and mother Bobbie Edwards (r.) after the jury reached a verdict at the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., Thursday.

John Adkisson/Reuters

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John Edwards may have committed many sins, as his defense attorney noted, but a North Carolina jury on Thursday did not convict him of any crimes.

The jury returned a not guilty verdict on the key charge in the federal campaign corruption trial against Mr. Edwards – that the former Democratic presidential candidate allegedly helped to illegally funnel over $700,000 in hush money from heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. The jury deadlocked on the five other counts against him, and Judge Catherine Eagles declared a mistrial.

The verdict came on the ninth day of deliberations at the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., as a diverse jury attempted to weigh the prosecution’s contention that Edwards illegally used campaign donations to hide a mistress, Rielle Hunter, and a love child from voters and his ailing wife. The long deliberations, with the jury asking the judge for dozens of exhibits, suggested that jurors were struggling with complex and often vague campaign laws that require prosecutors to prove “intent” to break election law.

The verdict came as a blow to the US Justice Department’s embattled Public Integrity Division, which recently saw several prosecutors dismissed for their role in the bungled prosecution of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens. It’s also sure to raise questions about whether the case should have been brought in the first place, given that Edwards was no longer a political figure and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) had not ruled against Edwards.

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