updated 1/25/2011 4:54:36 PM ET 2011-01-25T21:54:36

In the run-up to the 2006 midterm election in which Republicans lost control of the House, the Bush administration repeatedly broke the law by using federal funds to send Cabinet secretaries and other high-level political appointees to congressional districts of GOP candidates in tight races, according to a government report.

"Because those trips were classified as official, funds from the U.S. Treasury were used to finance the trips and reimbursement from the relevant campaigns was never sought," stated the report by the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal agency that enforces Hatch Act restrictions on partisan political activity inside the federal government.

"In other cases, even when trips were correctly designated as political, agencies used U.S. Treasury funds to cover the costs associated with the trips and did not recoup those funds as required by the Hatch Act and its regulations," the office concluded.

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OSC found that 10 agencies used federal funds to pay for political appointees to travel to events supporting Republican candidates in 2006 in an operation monitored closely by the White House Office of Political Affairs. The report says that aspects of OPA that came in conflict with the Hatch Act during the Bush era "have apparently existed for decades."

On Tuesday, David Sherzer, a spokesman for former President George W. Bush, declined to comment.

The report found that in the three months before the 2006 elections, agency political appointees participated in 197 events.

Out of that number, 183 of the events were with a Republican candidate. In contrast, in the same time frame in 2005, a non-election year, agency political appointees went to 76 events, 46 of them with a Republican candidate.

Hatch Act violations are punishable with a maximum penalty of dismissal, a remedy that is unavailable since those involved left the government.

The 10 agencies that used federal funds to pay for political appointees to travel to events supporting Republican candidates in 2006 were the departments of Transportation, Interior, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Energy, the Veterans Administration, the Small Business Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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