WASHINGTON – John Edwards' campaign must repay more than $2.2 million to the U.S. Treasury after improperly getting federal matching funds during his 2008 presidential bid, according to a final Federal Election Commission audit released Friday.
The report also found that Edwards' campaign understated the amount of money it had on hand on two separate occasions, failed to itemize more than $4.3 million in loan repayments and owes the treasury nearly $142,000 in checks the campaign issued that were never cashed.
The committee in charge of Edwards' campaign now has 90 days to make a payment or 60 days to ask the FEC to review the decision. When the audit's findings became public last month, Patricia A. Fiori, an attorney for the campaign, said the committee would appeal. Fiori did not respond to a request from comment by early Friday afternoon.
Edwards, a former senator from North Carolina and 2004 Democratic nominee for the vice presidency, dropped out of the race on January 30, 2008.
Audits are required for federal campaigns that accept public financing, and it's not uncommon for campaign committees to find themselves owing money to the Treasury, said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College. But the size of the repayment sought by the FEC from Edwards' campaign is out of the ordinary.
"A $2 million repayment is substantial," he said. "If you look back through the history of these audits, it's often the case that campaigns are repaying hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Ronald Reagan's 1980 campaign committee had to repay about $953,000 to the Treasury, but large sums are uncommon, Corrado said, especially given the relatively modest amount of money Edwards raised through matching funds.
The campaign received nearly $13 million in matching funds after it was approved by the FEC in December 2007.
The largest amount of money owed by the campaign, according to the audit, is roughly $2.1 million in federal matching funds received by the campaign. The audit says that money came after Edwards' campaign was no longer eligible to receive payments that match contributions to the campaign.
The campaign disagrees, and claims that "the failure to match these contributions violates the First Amendment rights of both the candidate and those individuals who contributed to the candidate's committee," according to the audit.
The audit is separate from the other legal troubles facing Edwards, although those are also related to campaign spending. In June, he pleaded not guilty to six counts of violating federal campaign finance law to cover up an affair with Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer with whom he fathered a child.
Prosecutors contend he received contributions far over the legal limit and then filed false campaign finance reports in an attempt to hide the extra money, which was used to keep Hunter out of sight. A trial in that case has been tentatively scheduled to begin in October in North Carolina.
Associated Press writer Tom Breen contributed to this report from Raleigh, N.C.