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FEC rules John Edwards campaign must repay $2.3 million over matching funds

The Federal Election Commission said Thursday that embattled former presidential candidate John Edwards must repay $2.3 million to the U.S. Treasury, mostly because of excessive matching money his 2008 campaign accepted.

The ruling represented another blow to the Democratic former senator from North Carolina, who is dealing with a federal indictment related to his use of campaign funding to allegedly cover up an affair with a former staff member.

The FEC noted that the $2.3 million is not a fine, but a refund of excessive matching money. The agency said it is not suggesting that Edwards was involved in any criminal wrongdoing.

“The commission has an obligation to ensure that candidates who participate in the Presidential Matching Funds Program use those public funds consistent with the law, and repayment determinations are one tool the commission has to fulfill that obligation,” FEC Chairman Cynthia L. Bauerly said. “Today’s action by the commission was one step in the process.”

The FEC said Edwards’s 2008 presidential campaign also under-reported in some campaign finance disclosures the amount of cash it had, did not itemize loan repayments and owed about $140,000 in checks that were far out of date by the time they were presented.

Edwards attorney Patricia A. Fiori issued a statement saying that the FEC’s determination was routine and was not based on any legal violation. The ruling will be appealed, she said, noting that neither Edwards nor his attorneys had received any of the campaign money in connection with the criminal charges against him.

A candidate must meet certain benchmarks to qualify for matching money from the federal Presidential Election Campaign Fund, raising $20,000 in 20 states and using donations no larger than $250 to reach that total.

The FEC ruled that Edwards accepted excessive matching money after dropping out of the presidential contest in January 2008.

Edwards had $2.6 million in his campaign account as of June 30, according to disclosure reports. But that fund has been dwindling rapidly, with the still-active operation spending $370,000 this year, including $100,000 in legal expenses.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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