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More Ex-Edwards Aides Helping 527s

WEST DES MOINES -- John Edwards, who has long railed against the influence of special interest groups in campaigns, came under heavy fire as the New York Times reported today that Edwards campaign officials had contact with officials at a 527 group planning a major advertising blitz on the former Senator's behalf.

An email obtained by the Times, sent from the head of a Washington State local of Service Employees International Union, describes plans to contact the campaign to determine what level of support Edwards advisers would hope for. The email listed meetings including with Edwards campaign manager David Bonior and top SEIU officials.

Questions about the coordination between Edwards' campaign and his SEIU backers were initially raised this week as Chris Cillizza reported the union group, officially known as the Alliance for a New America, was being advised by top Democratic strategist Nick Baldick. Baldick managed Edwards' 2004 race, and many saw his involvement as evidence that coordination, prohibited under federal campaign law, occurred. The group has spent about $600,000 on radio ads in Iowa backing Edwards and plans to spend $750,000 on television ads in the final week and a half before the Iowa caucuses.

Baldick is not the only former Edwards aide now helping the Alliance for a New America. FEC filings show ex-Edwards staffer Katherine Buchanan is the group's "custodian of records," responsible for signing finance reports. Buchanan was previously employed by Edwards' One America PAC as late as December 30, 2005, as well as by Edwards' Senate campaign committee.

Spokespeople for both the Edwards campaign and SEIU deny wrongdoing and insist the two did not coordinate anything beyond a rollout of endorsements, which is legal under FEC rules. "The email put forth by a rival campaign is an internal SEIU email about internal SEIU discussions and has nothing to do with the Edwards campaign," spokesman Eric Schultz told The Page. "Apparently, based on the email we received from a reporter, SEIU officials were having two separate conversations - one with the Edwards campaign to discuss perfectly legal member-to-member activities and another one internally about their own activities - to try and link the two conversations together is false and misleading."

Schultz said both SEIU and the campaign have prohibited communications between certain staff members that might appear improper. "We stand by our strong position that 527s should have no role in the political process," he said.

Edwards has been attacked recently by Barack Obama for backing he is getting from the outside groups, including during a speech today in Des Moines. Obama has suggested that the backing Edwards gets from outside groups is hypocritical, given Edwards' stance against taking money from lobbyists and political action committees. The two campaigns have engaged in a running battle this week, as both fight more openly for the right to hold the anybody-but-Clinton mantle.

While Edwards' campaign is likely not in legal jeopardy because of the SEIU official's email, the revelations could tarnish his squeaky-clean image. The incident, one Democratic operative backing another candidate says, "severely undermines his 'I'll fight them all back to hell' message. But, more dangerous for Edwards is if this is seen as part of a pattern that confirms the story line that's been setting in over the course of the campaign -- that he's not genuine and he'll do and say anything to get elected."

"Not only is he going to have to explain to Iowans why he loses his itch to fight the corruptive influence of the system when the system is benefiting him," the operative continued, "but more fundamentally he'll have to explain why they should trust him. That's a bad place to be going into the final week for a guy running as a populist."

With just a week to go before voters in Iowa caucus, the timing could not be worse: Many agree that Edwards must win the lead-off state, in which he has invested huge amounts of time and money, in order to have a shot at the Democratic nomination.