The U.S. House voted to reprimand Representative Laura Richardson, a California Democrat, for a series of ethics violations including requiring staffers to work on her re-election campaign.
Lawmakers agreed today, on a voice vote, to formally disapprove of her conduct and impose a $10,000 fine. The chamber’s ethics committee determined she required staffers to spend hundreds of hours working on her campaign, used House resources for unofficial purposes and then interfered with its investigation by attempting to coach witnesses.
“There is an unspoken duty to hold ourselves to a higher standard -- unfortunately, as Representative Richardson has admitted, she did not live up to that higher standard,” said Representative Jo Bonner, an Alabama Republican who leads the panel. “While it is ultimately up to her constituents in California to be the final judge of her actions, I think it’s safe to say she did a disservice to the hardworking taxpayers from all corners of this country who expect and deserve more from their elected leaders.”
Richardson is running for re-election against a fellow Democrat, Representative Janice Hahn, in a redrawn congressional district. Richardson placed second to Hahn in the state’s primary in June. Under California’s new voting system, the top two candidates will face each other in the November general election regardless of their party affiliation.
The punishment falls short of expulsion, the harshest sanction the chamber can impose, though it is more severe than others such as taking away a lawmaker’s committee assignments. Richardson is the ninth House member in history to be reprimanded, according to the ethics committee. Her fine, payable to the U.S. Treasury, is due Dec. 1.
Richardson admitted to the seven counts by the ethics committee though she said today, “I’ve never taken or threatened any action against any staffer who did not volunteer to work on my campaign.”
Speaking on the House floor, 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.”
Richardson’s staffers were compelled to work in the evenings and on the weekends under the threat of losing their jobs, according to the ethics report. They made phone calls and met with voters in her district. One staffer was directed to volunteer for her rival’s campaign under a false name to gather information, according to the ethics committee’s report.
Richardson used her official House budget to buy campaign supplies and urged staff members to tell ethics investigators they had volunteered for the campaign work, the report said.
The committee said Richardson treated its investigation with “utter disdain,” at one point demanding an end to an interview so she could participate in a congressional softball game.
Richardson showed an “utter absence of true remorse for her misuse of official resources and, equally as significant, for what she has put her staff through, as well as a near total deflection of responsibility for this matter,” the panel said.