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Independent group supporting Edwards discloses $495,000 gift

December 29, 2007|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

DES MOINES — The investment account of philanthropist Rachel L. Mellon has given $495,000 to an independent group that is backing Democrat John Edwards' presidential bid.

The donation, which was disclosed in a Federal Election Commission filing Friday, comes as Edwards and rival Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois have been sniping at each other over just such outside spending.

An aide to Obama called the $495,000 gift from Mellon, who is in her mid-90s, "questionable," and Edwards repeated his view that independent advocacy groups should be banned.

The donation came from Oak Spring Farms LLC, the New York entity that holds Mellon's pharmaceutical and banking fortune.

Mellon, a onetime friend of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, was involved in politics decades ago. She had not made a federal donation for at least a decade before March, when she gave $4,600 to Edwards.

Neither Mellon nor her attorney, Alexander Forger, could be reached for comment.

Forger, who oversees her investment account, hosted a fundraiser for Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, and donated $4,600 in March -- the maximum an individual can give directly to a candidate.

The $495,000 disclosed Friday went to Alliance for a New America, an independent group not subject to federal campaign financing limits. The group also has received funding from labor organizations, and is spending $1.7 million on radio and TV ads on Edwards' behalf in Iowa.

Nick Baldick, a former Edwards aide who is overseeing the alliance's ad blitz in Iowa, declined to comment on the Mellon donation.

Edwards spokesman Eric Schultz said the "campaign has nothing to do with this, but as he has said repeatedly, Sen. Edwards believes these groups should have no role in the political process."

On Friday, Obama leveled a new attack on Edwards and fellow Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, a New York senator, for benefiting from independent groups in Iowa -- even as a similar group has been raising significant sums to help him in the California primary.

In an e-mail to supporters, Obama appealed for donations while decrying "outside groups" that are "in the process of pouring more than $3.2 million into Iowa to support Hillary Clinton and John Edwards."

The groups Obama was referring to include labor unions, which are a foundation of Democratic Party support, and EMILY's List, a political action committee devoted to electing Democratic women who support abortion rights.

Although Obama has not received backing from independent campaigns in Iowa, he stands to benefit from one such group, Vote Hope, which aims to help him in the Feb. 5 primary in California.

"In no uncertain terms, we oppose any such support and continue to disavow it," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said of Vote Hope.

Vote Hope representatives did not return phone calls. The group raised $350,000 in the first half of the year, according to records filed in July with the Federal Election Commission and the California secretary of state.

When it was created in March, the group said it hoped to raise $2 million, to get Obama supporters to the polls in California.


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