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Calif. Congresswoman to accept ethics punishment

Published August 1, 2012 12:40 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON • Rep. Laura Richardson, D-Calif., improperly compelled her congressional staff to do campaign work and should be reprimanded and fined for violating standards of conduct, the House Ethics Committee announced Wednesday.

The committee said she admitted to all seven counts of violations and agreed to the proposed punishment, which awaits House action.

The committee unanimously adopted the report of its investigative panel, in which investigators detailed the third-term lawmaker's coercion, attempts to alter evidence and efforts to influence the testimony of staff members who would be witnesses.

Adoption of the report by the House would constitute a reprimand. The House also was asked by the committee to impose a $10,000 fine to be paid by Dec. 1.

The committee said it discouraged Richardson from permitting any staff members to work in her campaign. She's in a tough re-election race against fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn. Although Hahn beat Richardson by a 60-39 margin in the primary, the state allows the top two finishers to run against each other in the general election regardless of party affiliation.

The ethics charges have been a drag on Richardson's fundraising as her campaign was greatly outspent in the primary. Hahn raised and spent more than $2.1 million and won the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. Richardson raised about $483,000 and spent about $403,000, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report covering through June 30.

The investigative report said the coercion of the staff began in early 2010 and continued in the current campaign even though Richardson knew she was under investigation.

"Despite being aware since October 2010 of the committee's investigation into her activities regarding the impermissible use of House resources and House staff for campaign or nonofficial purposes, respondent has continued to require staff members" in both her Washington and Long Beach, Calif., office to perform campaign work, the report said.

Among the findings by the investigative subcommittee in connection with Richardson's 2010 campaign were:

—Richardson's chief of staff, in early 2010, told district staff members that they would be expected to work on the campaign. When one asked what would happen if he declined, he was told he probably wouldn't have a job.

—Employees were expected to close the congresswoman's Long Beach office at 6 p.m. every workday and then go to the campaign office to answer the phone and perform "precinct walks." Staff members were not permitted to take a break for dinner or perform any personal tasks before starting the daily campaign work. Staff members also were expected to attend campaign events on weekends.

—During the fall of 2010, Richardson directed a staff member to volunteer for her opponent's campaign under a fake name to gather information.

—Richardson repeatedly called staff members who failed to attend campaign events, in order to secure their future appearances. This was an attempt to pressure and intimidate the employees.

—The congresswoman used staff members for a September, 2010 fundraiser with a "Democratic Idol" theme, featuring members of Congress singing karaoke in a parody of "American Idol."

—Richardson had a staff member review a spreadsheet provided by the campaign that listed individuals related to the health care industry. The aide was to compare the list with her official contacts on health care from her congressional work. When the aide expressed her concern about performing campaign work in the office, her work was given to another staffer so the health care aide could work from home on the campaign task.

—In an October 2010 meeting in the Long Beach office, with the Washington staff watching by teleconference, Richardson explained she was under investigation by the House committee. She "attempted to influence the testimony of members of her staff by suggesting that they tell the committee that their work on her campaign had been voluntary, even though some of it had not," the report said.