The chairman of the state Republican Party said Friday he will resign because he does not want questions about misconduct by his staff to be a distraction.

"It is best that I refocus my energy and encourage others to refocus theirs," said Lee Daniels, who has spent 18 years as minority leader and speaker of the state House.

He took over as party chairman in November, promising to help GOP candidates overcome the taint of a federal investigation of Republican Gov. George Ryan. But Daniels is now also being questioned.

Records show his legislative employees made hundreds of visits to districts with tight political races in 2000. State Attorney General Jim Ryan said federal authorities are looking into whether Daniels' aides were doing political work on state time.

Doug Scofield, a spokesman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rod Blagojevich, called Daniels' resignation "far too little, far too late."

Jim Durkin, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said Daniels did the right thing by resigning and shifting the focus back to campaign issues.

Daniels said he would resign July 8. He has denied any personal wrongdoing but asked the attorney general to look into whether the House GOP staff might have.

Jim Ryan, a Republican candidate for governor, said that because of the potential conflict, the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago would handle the investigation.