House reprimands Richardson for conduct violations

The House on Thursday officially reprimanded California Democrat Laura Richardson for forcing her congressional staff to do campaign work and violating codes of conduct for government service.

The reprimand came with a $10,000 fine and was another blow to the three-term lawmaker's uphill re-election race against fellow Democrat Rep. Janice Hahn.

Richardson admitted to all seven counts levied against her and agreed to accept the reprimand. But in a speech on the House floor before lawmakers voted to agree to the reprimand, she criticized the House Ethics Committee for the way they conducted the investigation and denied that she had coerced her staff.

"I want to emphasize that I have never taken or threatened any action against any staffer who did not volunteer to work on my campaign," she said. "There is no doubt that a number of staff felt compelled or coerced to do so. That was not my intent, and I deeply regret that this occurred."

The Ethics Committee report, which was adopted unanimously, said that employees in her Long Beach office were compelled to do campaign work after their workdays and that those who declined were given the impression they could lose their jobs. It said Richardson sought to influence the testimony of staff members before the Ethics Committee by suggesting they tell the committee their work on her campaign had been voluntary.

It said that in the fall of 2010, she directed a staff member to volunteer for her opponent's campaign under a fake name to gather information. It said the coercion of staff began in early 2010 and continued in the current campaign, even though Richardson knew she was under investigation.

The congresswoman, it said, had acted "with utter disdain" for the investigative process.

"There is an unspoken duty to hold ourselves up to a higher standard. Unfortunately, as Rep. Richardson has admitted, she did not live up to that higher standard," the Ethics Committee chairman, Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Ala., said.

"The conclusion was bipartisan, and it was unanimous," said Rep. Linda Sanchez of California, top Democrat on the panel, which is made up of five Republicans and five Democrats.

Because of redistricting, Richardson is locked in a tough re-election race against Hahn, who defeated her by a 60-39 margin in the primary. California law allows the top two finishers to run against each other in the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Bonner said before the vote that in the history of the House, five members had been expelled, eight reprimanded and 23 censured.