By Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - House Speaker Paul Ryan's political operation is sending a cease-and-desist letter on Thursday to a group that is trying to draft him as a Republican presidential candidate, urging it to halt its activities and warning of legal risk.
With establishment Republicans desperately searching for a way to stop Donald Trump's march toward the party's 2016 presidential nomination, Ryan's name has been mentioned often as an alternative. But he has said he does not want to run for president this year and has disavowed the Committee to Draft Speaker Ryan group.
The organization has continued attempts to collect 1 million signatures on an online petition to draft Ryan, arguing that the very definition of a draft movement is to encourage a reluctant participant to join.
The Draft Ryan group, which registered with U.S. Federal Election Commission as a Super PAC, was another indication of Ryan's rise to the Republican Party's top ranks since he became speaker last year. Ryan was Mitt Romney's vice presidential running mate on the Republicans' 2012 ticket.
A spokesman for the group, David Catalfamo, said it had not yet received the letter from the Ryan camp, but that "as reported, it’s a sad commentary on the state of our politics today.
"The Committee to Draft Speaker Ryan is simply a patriotic effort to save our party and save our country,” Catalfamo said.
Timothy Kronquist, an attorney for Ryan's political operation, addressed the letter to the group's treasurer, David Satterfield. It urged the organization to immediately cease and desist from any representations that it is acting on Ryan's behalf or raising funds that would assist Ryan's campaign activities.
"We believe the actions of your organization are not in compliance with federal law and may constitute fraudulent solicitation of funds," the letter said.
"Speaker Ryan has repeatedly announced publicly that he is not running for president in 2016 ... It is in the public interest for your organization to cease potentially confusing and misleading people into supporting your organization."
A copy of the letter, which was dated Thursday, was seen by Reuters.
Dividing the party, Trump has racked up primary wins and expanded his lead this week despite attacks from the party's establishment, which is trying to stop him from claiming the nomination at the Republican convention in July.
Ryan has abstained from endorsing any presidential candidate in the 2016 race.
(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Trott)