Washington Babylon — August 11, 2008, 9:36 am

John Edwards Ends Fling With Anti-Poverty Center

Once upon a time John Edwards wanted to be president. “Poverty,” he said back then, “is the great moral issue of our century,” he told a group of students at Berkeley in 2005. “People living in poverty need you. And another thing: America needs you.”

To show his own dedication, Edwards “created a tax-exempt nonprofit dedicated to fighting poverty”, reported the New York Times. Except:

The organization, the Center for Promise and Opportunity, raised $1.3 million in 2005, and—unlike a sister charity he created to raise scholarship money for poor students—the main beneficiary of the center’s fund-raising was Mr. Edwards himself, tax filings show…

The organization became a big part of a shadow political apparatus for Mr. Edwards after his defeat as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2004 and before the start of his presidential bid this time around. Its officers were members of his political staff, and it helped pay for his nearly constant travel, including to early primary states.

While Mr. Edwards said the organization’s purpose was “making the eradication of poverty the cause of this generation,” its federal filings say it financed “retreats and seminars” with foreign policy experts on Iraq and national security issues. Unlike the scholarship charity, donations to it were not tax deductible, and, significantly, it did not have to disclose its donors—as political action committees and other political fund-raising vehicles do—and there were no limits on the size of individual donations.

In other words, the Center may have done some good, but its primary purpose was to serve as a vehicle for Edwards’ political career. Indeed, it appears to be very similar to the bogus “Reform Institute” that John McCain set up after his defeat to George W. Bush in 2000, and which was designed to keep alive his presidential ambitions and reward his cronies.

Edwards of course lost his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination this year, and guess what happened to his big anti-poverty initiative? That’s right–it appears he pulled the plug on it.

About a week before Edwards acknowledged having an affair with Rielle Hunter, Edwards quietly shut down a “scholarship program he started at an Eastern North Carolina high school–a program he once promised would be a model for the nation under an Edwards presidency,” reports the Raleigh News & Observer:

Edwards’ presidential hopes have evaporated. And he recently informed Greene County officials that he would end the pilot program at Greene Central High School. “We sent a communication out to upcoming seniors and their parents,” said Randy Bledsoe, principal of Greene Central High. “Some are saddened that the opportunity is not going to be there for their children. But we’ve had a lot of positive reaction over the years.”

Edwards started the “College for Everyone” pilot program at Greene Central High in 2005, shortly after he was the Democratic vice presidential nominee. It was a privately funded effort designed to increase the number of students at a rural high school who attend college. The program provided the cost of tuition, fees and books at a public college for one year. In exchange, students had to work at least 10 hours a week while in college, take college preparatory courses in high school and stay out of trouble.

But now Edwards is no longer a presidential candidate, and with revelation of his affair, his political career is probably over as well. And no more College for Everyone. And incidentally, it doesn’t look like Edwards’ Center for Promise and Opportunity Foundation did any other notable anti-poverty work, and the group itself appears to be largely defunct. The foundation has no website, and, after examining tax records, my colleague Sebastian Jones determined that it was largely indistinguishable from the College for Everyone program.

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More from Ken Silverstein:

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