Edwards' finances and populism clash

The Baltimore Sun

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Once again, John Edwards' money is getting in the way of his message.

His Democratic presidential campaign spent yesterday responding to a front-page Wall Street Journal report showing that a company Edwards worked for and has invested $16 million in, Fortress Investment Group, owns mortgage companies that have moved to foreclose on homeowners in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. The newspaper identified 34 homes in foreclosure suits.

Edwards, who made a fortune as a trial lawyer, worked for Fortress from late 2005 through 2006. Campaign finance reports show its employees and family members have contributed heavily to his campaign.

Edwards, a former U.S. senator who makes his home in Chapel Hill, N.C., told the Wall Street Journal that he would personally provide financial help to New Orleans residents who have lost their homes to Fortress-affiliated businesses. He also said he would pull out any investments he had that profited from their losses.

"I will not have my family's money invested in these firms," Edwards said. His staff said he was on the campaign trail in Iowa yesterday and unavailable for further comment.

A campaign spokesman, Eric Schultz, released a statement saying Edwards would take responsibility for those hit with foreclosures, but it provided no details as to what he would do.

Edwards has sought to be identified as a champion of the poor and the working class. At many campaign stops, including New Orleans, he has criticized predatory lenders for taking advantage of people.

It's that contrast between his public message and his financial dealings that continues to dog his campaign. Over the past several months, he has had to respond to reports about $400 haircuts, a $6 million estate he built last year and a nonprofit he created and pitched as an anti-poverty organization that benefited his campaign.

His attacks on conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch led to the disclosure this month in one of Murdoch's newspapers of a $900,000 book deal Edwards struck with a Murdoch-owned publisher.

Edwards' campaign said he is donating the proceeds from the 2006 book Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives to charity.

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