- Juries are often reluctant to put charismatic defendants in jail when the crime isn't violent. Look at various stars and drinking or drug use (Lindsey Lohan, Robert Downy Jr., etc.). Edwards may be something of a slimy politico--but he's charismatic. I'm not terribly surprised by this.
- The issue here is not, to my mind, especially about "campaign contributions." It's about sleeping around and trying to hide it. As I understand it, the prosecution was trying to claim that the money was primarily moved as a cover-up to keep him in the campaign. If that's true, that's nonsense: keeping himself in the game was probably an issue--but I cannot imagine it was the key issue. Keeping himself in his marriage was probably his key issue.
- The prosecution's decision to drag his name through the mud may not have helped. It's not like everyone doesn't already know he's slime. Four years or so later the head-of-steam is off the crime. If he could be jailed for adultery? Yeah. But it's like getting Al Capone on tax-evasion--emotionally speaking.
I think it's worth re-iterating that I think he "did it." He cheated. He tried to cover it up. He claims he didn't know about the money--I doubt that (but I haven't seen the evidence). He says he didn't think he was breaking the law (he's a lawyer ...). I doubt that. But, again, when a key issue is whether the actions were done in the context of a political campaign (i.e. he would have done this if its reveal would not have trashed his character and family life) is hugely questionable.
Oh, yeah: and there is this. Imagine if he had won? What if he was the democratic nominee and then collapsed in scandal? That, right there, is a cautionary tale for any party.