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Why can't Edwards reveal his sources?

The following editorial appeared in the Washington Post:

WASHINGTON _ A big piece of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' campaign message is about how he would work to "clean up" Washington if elected president. He accuses President Bush of putting "the interests of lobbyists and campaign contributors above the interests of regular people." But Edwards _ alone among the serious candidates for president _ declines to provide a list of his major campaign financiers: the men and women who have not only the capability to write $2,000 checks themselves but the networks that allow them to harvest bigger bundles for their favored candidates. President Bush posts on his Web site the names of his $100,000 Pioneers and $200,000 Rangers. Edwards' Democratic rivals _ Sens. John F. Kerry (Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark _ have, at our request, provided similar lists of major underwriters.

And Edwards? His press secretary, Jennifer Palmieri, had this to say to us last month: "Sen. Edwards is a leader in campaign finance reform. He has committed to the public finance system, proposed bold new ethics standards as a candidateand has gone beyond what the law requires by refusing to accept any contributions from lobbyists. Every donation he receives is duly reported."

True, but as Edwards' fellow lawyers would say, nonresponsive. As the other candidates have implicitly recognized, there is a gap in the existing disclosure regime. The rules put quantity of disclosure (all donations bigger than $200) over quality, failing to require that candidates reveal the identities of the financiers who really matter to their enterprises _ and to whom they'd be indebted in office.

Based on the latest data available, Edwards has collected a bigger chunk of his donations in the form of $2,000 checks, the largest allowable, than any of the other Democratic candidates: 65 percent, compared with Kerry's 55 percent and Dean's 13 percent. Now, with his surprise second-place showing in Iowa, Edwards is scrambling to collect even more of those checks. It's no secret that the backbone of Edwards' financial support has been his fellow trial lawyers, nor does Edwards minimize that part of his biography; rather, he embraces it as a role in which he fought for ordinary citizens against powerful corporations. That's fine; voters can judge for themselves between his view of the profession and the Republicans' depiction of trial lawyers as sharks savaging the public interest. What's beyond dispute is that trial lawyers are a special interest. They pump millions of dollars into Democratic coffers because their livelihoods depend on such legislative issues as caps on damages in medical malpractice cases, limits on class action lawsuits and the settlement of asbestos litigation.

"I have never taken a dime from Washington lobbyists and I never will," Edwards tells his audiences. "I will be your president, not theirs." But if Edwards believes that taking campaign contributions from lobbyists makes candidates beholden to them, why won't he reveal more about the interests and individuals that he would owe if elected president? If he's as committed as he says to transparency in government, is it too much to ask that his campaign at least be as open as that of Bush?

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