In a January 23 online discussion, Washington Post reporter John Solomon defended his controversial article about Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards' recent sale of his house by suggesting -- without offering any evidence -- that the sale violated "federal campaign law" disclosure requirements.
Solomon explicitly stated in his response that the disclosure requirement "is encoded in federal campaign law" but offered no evidence to support that contention. Indeed, that argument is absent entirely from the January 19 article. And Solomon himself seemed to contradict his own allegations with his next answer, in which he said, "A frontpage story doesn't have to always find wrongdoing or lead to prosecutions."
Further, in suggesting that Edwards broke disclosure laws, Solomon apparently misstated that law. Executive Branch Personnel Public Financial Disclosure Reports -- which must be filed by presidential candidates, and to which Solomon is apparently referring -- do contain a section for "transactions." But that section -- Schedule B, Part 1 -- specifically instructs candidates not to report the sale of a personal residence. The instructions read: "Do not report a transaction involving property used solely as your personal residence." In fact, presidential candidates -- as opposed to current officeholders -- are exempted from filling out Schedule B altogether. The top of Schedule B reads: "Do not complete Schedule B if you are a new entrant, nominee, or Vice Presidential or Presidential candidate." See, for example, Howard Dean's 2003 filing and President Bush's 2006 filing.
From the January 23 online discussion:
Washington: A quick question about the Edwards story -- leaving aside the politics for a moment, wouldn't it have been against D.C. law for Edwards to refuse the sale? I didn't think you were allowed to accept or reject a sale for political reasons, and I was wondering why this wasn't mentioned in the story (if true).
John Solomon: Thanks for this question. Certainly there's been lots of discussion in the blogs about this story and let me try to address the core issue. This wasn't a story about whether John Edwards should or shouldn't have picked the Klaassens as buyers. It was a story about the transparency of the deal. Those who aspire to the highest office in the land are required to disclose their financial dealings to the fullest extent. That isn't a political requirement or some media-driven imposition. It is encoded in the federal campaign law. When Edwards' campaign first disclosed the deal, much detail was lacking about the deal _ most importantly the name of the buyers. Such information is critical to the transparency of a transaction involving $5.2 million that occurred on the night before Edwards launched his candidacy. Our story simply filled in the missing blanks.
South Burlington, Vt.: Any second thoughts on your Edwards' house sale story? Even your own ombudsperson wants to know "where's the beef?"
John Solomon: I have no regrets at all about the story or its play in the Post. I would have written it the same way and reported it the same way _ whether it was a Republican or Democrat or independent. Highlighting who political leaders do business with is an essential role for journalists. A frontpage story doesn't have to always find wrongdoing or lead to prosecutions. It can simply illuminate how a candidate chose to address a basic requirement of his campaign _ achieving transparency on his or her financial dealings. And Edwards has hardly been singled out. Newspapers have given frontpage examination to numerous real estate transactions in the last year from Obama and Cunningham to Reid and Hastert.