In an interview with The Associated Press, the former North Carolina senator said his yearlong, part-time position with Fortress Investment Group helped his understanding of the connection, but he has more to learn. Edwards has made eradicating poverty a focus of his second White House bid.
Edwards, a multimillionaire after years as a trial lawyer, would not disclose how much he got paid for a year of consulting beginning in October 2005. He said the amount will be revealed when he releases his financial disclosure forms due May 15.
Asked if he had to join a hedge fund to learn about financial markets, Edwards replied, "How else would I have done it?"
He said he considered going to an investment firm such as Goldman Sachs, but Fortress was the most natural fit. Presented with the suggestion that he could have taken a university class instead, he said, "That's true."
"It was primarily to learn, but making money was a good thing, too," he said in aninterview with AP reporters and editors.
Hedge funds, now numbering more than 9,000 in the U.S. with assets estimated to exceed $1 trillion, traditionally cater to the rich, as well as pension funds and university endowments, but are increasingly luring less wealthy investors.
Fortress Investment Group, founded in 1998, describes itself as "a leading global alternative asset manager" with approximately $35.1 billion in assets under management as of December 31, 2006. The company is headquartered in New York with affiliates around the world.
Fortress was the single biggest employer of Edwards donors during the first three months of the year. Donors who listed "Fortress" as their employer contributed $67,450 to Edwards' campaign and supporters who identified their employer as "Fortress Investment Group" gave $55,200 to the campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.
Hedge funds also have another connection to the Democratic presidential race - Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Edwards' rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, works for a firm called Avenue Capital Group.
Edwards said it's fair to ask questions about whether there is a contradiction between campaigning against poverty while working for a hedge fund designed to make rich people richer. But he said the job was a complement to his position as the head of a poverty center at the University of North Carolina, something he said he didn't describe adequately when asked about the hedge fund during the first Democratic debate last month.
In the AP interview, Edwards also said:
• It's possible that his plan to pull troops out of Iraq, along with any other action the United States takes, could lead to greater civil war. He did not rule out sending U.S. forces back if the civil war turned into a genocide, but "my plan would be not to put combat troops back into Iraq."
• He did not feel the information he got as a member of the Senate Intelligence committee in the lead-up to the Iraq war was inconsistent with what the administration was saying publicly. Another member of the panel, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., has said the classified information the committee got directly contradicted the public case for war.
"My view was that the evidence was very consistent about weapons of mass destruction. It turns out it was wrong," Edwards said.
• All the doctors his wife Elizabeth has consulted about her recurrence of breast cancer have been optimistic that she will respond to treatment to the incurable prognosis. He said they have spoken frequently about how they should use the time they have left together, and both want to spend the remainder of their lives committed to service.
• Congress should renew the assault weapons ban. He also said he doesn't own a gun because he doesn't hunt any more and because it would be dangerous around his small children.
• He would begin broadcasting in Iowa his television ad demanding that Congress stand up to President Bush's veto of a withdrawal timetable for Iraq. The commercial, a version of which has been airing for days on Washington television stations, calls on Congress to ignore the veto and send Bush the "same bill again and again." The commercial features small-town scenes and images of people who identify themselves as Iowans.
"Iowans support our troops," one man in overalls says.
"And we have a responsibility to bring them home," a woman adds.
The ad drew criticism from Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., an Edwards' rival for the presidency, whose spokeswoman pointedly noted that Edwards was no longer in the Senate to be part of the effort to oppose Bush on Iraq.