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The Rev. Al Sharpton said he feels a weight has lifted, now that his longrunning battles with the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission are finally resolved.

“This is the first time in years that nothing is hanging over our heads,” he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday.

The Federal Election Commission announced earlier in the day that his campaign and his civil rights group would pay combined fines of $285,000 for breaking a variety of election finance rules during his 2004 presidential campaign.

The FEC’s findings included that Sharpton’s National Action Network had improperly subsidized his political campaign by paying for about $181,115 in expenses that should have been covered by his election committee.

News of the fine had become public nearly two weeks ago, but the settlement wasn’t official until now.

While acknowledging that the campaign did make mistakes, Sharpton said investigators found no evidence that anyone meant to break the law.

“I think this completely vindicates our campaign staff from the allegations that they were willfully doing things wrong,” he told The Associated Press.

He said his civil rights group will pay its $77,000 share of the fine Friday. His dormant campaign organization will throw fundraisers to come up with the rest.

Last summer, Sharpton resolved a major dispute with the IRS by agreeing to make a series of payments for back taxes, starting with an initial check for more than $1 million.

Federal prosecutors who had been investigating his finances also decided not to seek criminal charges.

The FEC eventually concluded that Sharpton’s election committees had routinely filed incorrect campaign finance reports, didn’t refund excessive or prohibited donations, and failed to report a fundraiser thrown for him in 2003 by Detroit businessman La Van Hawkins.

Hawkins was later sentenced to 33 months in prison in connection with an unrelated political corruption case in Philadelphia.

Since then Sharpton said he has “hired people who are more careful” to handle both his personal business affairs and the finances of his civil rights group.

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