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Accounting scandal hits House GOP campaign committee

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  • Officials are investigating the National Republican Congressional Committee
  • Committee's treasurer was fired for making unauthorized fund transfers
  • Incident could affect several congressional campaigns, party officials said
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An accounting scandal at the Republican Party's House campaign organization has federal agents investigating what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars and could affect several congressional campaigns, party officials said Thursday.

Christopher Ward, the National Republican Congressional Committee's longtime treasurer, was fired in January after committee officials learned that he had been making unauthorized fund transfers dating to 2004, said Rep. Tom Cole, the committee's chairman.

"Based on analysis conducted to date, it appears likely that over a period of several years Ward made several hundred thousand dollars in unauthorized transfers of NRCC funds to outside committees whose bank accounts he had access to, including joint fund-raising committees in which the NRCC participated," Cole said in a written statement.

"He also appears to have made subsequent transfers of several hundred thousand dollars in funds from those outside committees to what appear to be his personal and business bank accounts."

Attempts to reach Ward for comment were unsuccessful, and his attorney, Ronald Machen, would not discuss the investigation.

Cole said the committee reported the problems to the FBI immediately upon learning that false financial statements had been submitted to banks.

"It is my goal to be open and candid with the facts of this matter and to assure our members, our supporters and our staff at the NRCC that every effort is being made to prevent such a fraudulent act from happening again," he said.

The committee, which is set up with the aim of getting Republicans elected to the House of Representatives, has restated two of its reports to the Federal Election Commission. The latest report reduced the committee's cash on hand by $740,000 to $5.7 million.

An official with the campaign committee said on condition of anonymity that "several" members of Congress are likely to have been affected as well.

The official said Ward was the "go-to guy" for candidates wishing to navigate complicated campaign finance regulations. He was an expert on the administrative side of fundraising, according to the official, and several candidates asked him to oversee their bank accounts.

Ward was fired after he admitted that he could not produce an audit report for 2006, the official said.

He had served with the committee since 1995, when Republicans began a 12-year run in control of Congress. He was treasurer from 2003 to 2007 and had been working as a consultant for the group until his January 28 firing.

In addition to his job with the committee, FEC records show that Ward served as treasurer for 25 Republican fundraising committees.

The financial woes are the latest blow to a congressional Republicans still reeling from earlier scandals, which some members blame for the Democratic takeover of Congress.

Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay resigned in 2006 to battle a money-laundering indictment in his home state of Texas, and Rep. Bob Ney, the former chairman of the House Administration Committee, pleaded guilty to corruption charges in the scandal surrounding disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

This year, Rep. John Doolittle, a California Republican whose ties to Abramoff are under scrutiny, announced in January that he will not seek re-election.

And in February, a federal grand jury indicted Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi on charges that he promised to support legislation in exchange for a land deal that netted him more than $700,000.

The committee official said that there has been no sign that the scandal has affected the committee's fundraising but that receipts have dropped since Democrats took control of Congress last year.

The rival Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reported having more than $35 million in the bank at the end of January, according to FEC reports.

Ward "was a guy who, you'd go hang out at his office for 30 minutes chatting and having a good time," the GOP campaign official said.

He called Ward "the last person you'd have suspected of embezzling money" and said the treasurer showed no sign of spending additional money on things like cars or clothes. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Brian Todd and Dugald McConnell contributed to this report.

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