Ethics Committee punishes Rep. Laura Richardson for 7 ethics violations

Rachel Rose Hartman
The Ticket

The House Ethics Committee on Tuesday recommended that the full House reprimand and fine Rep. Laura Richardson $10,000 for seven ethics violations, including improper use of House resources.

The bipartisan committee reported that its investigation found the California Democrat violated House rules and other standards of conduct by using congressional resources for "campaign, personal, and nonofficial purposes," "requiring or compelling" House staff to work on her re-election campaign, and by "obstructing" the committee's investigation by destroying or altering evidence, failing to produce documentation and "attempting to influence the testimony of witnesses."

At one point in the report, the committee said Richardson acted with "utter disdain" for its process. After staff delayed interviewing Richardson for over a month at her request, during the interview she "demanded that it end so she could participate in an annual Congressional softball game."

"The Committee on Ethics has unanimously recommended that the House of Representatives adopt the report, and with it, a reprimand of Representative Richardson for the conduct described therein," the committee stated, adding a recommendation that Richardson be fined $10,000, to be paid no later than Dec. 1, 2012.

Richardson has agreed to the committee's terms.

"Representative Richardson has agreed to a settlement of this House Ethics Committee matter," her office said in a statement. "She has agreed to accept a reprimand by the adoption of the Committee report; and has agreed to pay a fine." She waived her right to a hearing, citing the time and effort the case would sap from the House as well as from the congresswoman.

Richardson, in her Statement of Views included in the report, said she was unaware of specific directives made by her chief of staff regarding campaign activity and cited numerous issues with the House Ethics Committee's investigative process.

Today's news is likely to figure prominently in Richardson's re-election race. Due to redistricting, the congresswoman faces a tough challenge from fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn in the 44th District. The two lawmakers are scheduled to face off in November under the state's top-two primary system, which allows the top two primary candidates regardless of party to advance to the general election.

The House Ethics Committee has long faced criticism for a failure to reach speedy conclusions, issuing weak penalties, misconduct and general disorder.

In July 2011, the committee hired outside counsel to investigate whether its staff mismanaged the case of California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, which centers on whether Waters used her political position to improperly advocate on behalf of a bank in which her husband was financially invested. The committee concluded in June 2012 that it did not violate Waters' rights but did not issue any report or findings from that investigation, rankling Democrats who called on the committee to release its information.