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.
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.
Investigators said Richardson infuriated the committee by appearing to contradict her own admission that she violated House rules, as well as federal law governing proper use of federal appropriations.
She contended that she had never taken or intended action against any aide who failed to volunteer for campaign work and accused the committee of intimidating and frightening her employees. She also claimed she was unable to fairly present her side of the case.
The committee said she had acted "with utter disdain" for the process and by agreeing to a deal, "rendered her own arguments moot."
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.
— 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.
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