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U.S. House to Launch Ethics Investigation Into California Rep. Laura Richardson

Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) is facing an investigation by the House Ethics Committee into allegations she pressured her congressional staff to work on her 2010 re-election campaign.

The ethics committee voted in a closed-door meeting Thursday to launch a formal investigation into the congresswoman, who is serving her third term, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Richardson has been the subject of a preliminary inquiry for more than a year.

Staffers were allegedly ordered by Richardson and her top aides to work on her re-election campaign or be fired, according to Politico.

Government resources cannot be used for any campaign activities under House ethics and federal law, and staffers on the congressional payroll are not allowed to work on political campaigns.

Eight current or former staffers told investigators they felt pressured to use their own time to work on Richardson's re-election campaign, and congressional resources -- such as phones and photocopying machines -- were also used for campaign purposes, the Times reported.

According to the ethics committee, congressional staff can use their own time to wok on campaigns "as volunteers or for pay, as long as they do not do so in congressional offices or facilities, or otherwise use official resources."

But "in no event may a member or office compel a House employee to do campaign work."

In a statement provided to the Times, Richardson late Thursday accused the ethics committee of "unjustly targeting some members while overlooking the well-publicized misuse of official House resources for personal purposes by numerous other members of Congress."

The 49-year-old also suggested she had been targeted because of her race and gender.

Lawmakers found guilty of ethics violations face reprimand, censure or expulsion from the House.

Richardson is also facing an uphill battle to retain her seat next year. She is expected to face two fellow Democrats, Rep. Janice Hahn and state Assemblyman Isadore Hall, in the June primary because of redistricting.