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FEC rules Edwards should pay $2.3M

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) must repay the federal government millions of dollars in matching funds, the Federal Election Commission unanimously ruled Thursday.

In a 6-0 vote, the commission determined the former presidential candidate accepted excessive funds after dropping out of the Democratic primary in January 2008.

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The vote came after an FEC audit of Edwards’s failed 2008 presidential campaign concluded that Edwards owed close to $2.3 million to the U.S. Treasury because he received federal matching funds “in excess” of what he was entitled to.

It was the latest setback for the former presidential candidate, who was indicted on felony charges last month. The FEC's ruling, however, had no relation to the allegations that Edwards violated campaign finance laws to conceal his 2008 affair with his videographer, Rielle Hunter.

Federal auditors charged that the John Edwards for President Committee received $2.1 million in matching funds "in excess of entitlement"; that its fundraising for two consecutive quarters in 2007 and 2008 had been underreported, with the missing contributions totaling above $1 million; that the campaign had failed to itemize loan repayments; and that the campaign owed more than $140,000 worth of stale-dated checks.

The response of Edwards’s attorney was included in the audit, and the counsel argued the campaign should not have to repay the funds. Edwards's counsel said they were necessary because staff were needed to “deal with a variety of issues” relating to closing the campaign, and that they “occurred within several days of the end of the campaign.”

Edwards has the funds in his campaign account to cover the repayment. He had more than $2.6 million cash on hand in June.

The former candidate can appeal the decision. However, after the commissioners' vote, his attorneys quickly left the hearing room and did not comment. Edwards did not make an appearance at the hearing.

The next step in the process is for the auditing staff to provide a final report within the next 30 days for the commissioners to approve. Once that is voted on, Edwards' campaign committee must either repay taxpayers within 60 days, or it can request an administrative review from the FEC within 90 days.

The audit was conducted because federal law requires the FEC to audit every political committee that receives public funds.

Edwards plead not guilty in June to six felony charges alleging that he accepted nearly $1 million from two supporters to hide Hunter's pregnancy while he was seeking the Democratic nomination. The trial is tentatively scheduled to begin in October.

-- This story was updated at 2:21 p.m.