WASHINGTON D.C. – CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has just released their seventh report on congressional corruption. In the report, CREW names 19 members of Congress – 14 members whose actions violated the law or who otherwise engaged in serious misconduct, and five others whose lack of regard for the rules earned them a dishonorable mention. Coming in at number 8, California’s own Rep. Laura D. Richardson.

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REP. LAURA D. RICHARDSON

Representative Laura Richardson (D-CA) is a three-term member of Congress,representing California’s 37th congressional district. Rep. Richardson’s ethics issues stem frommisusing official resources for campaign activity and personal benefit. Rep. Richardson wasincluded in CREW’s 2008 and 2009 congressional corruption reports for unrelated matters.

Misuse of Congressional Staff and Resources for Campaign Activity

In a press interview published in March 2011, Maria Angel Macias, Rep. Richardson’sformer district scheduler, alleged that Rep. Richardson had required members of her staff tovolunteer time on her 2010 re-election campaign.

Ms. Macias said she often scheduled campaign events “while on the taxpayer dime,” and that Rep. Richardson regularly directed herto call staff members outside of office hours “to make them work at campaign events.”

According to Ms. Macias, Rep. Richardson frequently “would just ask me to call [staff members]and tell them to come to the campaign office. She would ask me to schedule people (staff members and drivers to accompany Richardson) for campaign fundraisers for other electedofficials.”

Ms. Macias also said Rep. Richardson’s staff members often had little time for theirfamilies because they “had to attend campaign functions.”

In her resignation letter, Ms. Maciasadded that “on more than one occasion [she] was asked to do a task or coordinate an event thatwas on the ethical borderline and not in [her] job description.”

Although Rep. Richardson claimed she has never forced employees to volunteer, Ms.Macias’ allegations match statements made by members of Rep. Richardson’s congressionalstaff in other news reports.

According to a press report published in April 2010, Rep.Richardson’s former employees and other elected officials complained that “she forces her staff to work on her political campaigns under threat of dismissal.”

Some of her staff furtherreported that prior to the 2010 election, the congresswoman forced them “under threat of termination” to work on her re-election campaign each weekday evening from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.and on weekends from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 9 For example, Rep. Richardson reportedly forcedher staff to act as servers at a campaign event, which allegedly led the staffers to complain to theHouse Committee on Ethics.

On September 29, 2010, Rep. Richardson held a fundraiser called “Democratic Idol.”

On September 27, 2010, using her official House email account, Rep. Richardson’s chief of staff, Shirley Cooks, sent a message stating, “All staff are required to attend Ms. Richardson’s event.Bring spouses and tell interns they have to be there as well. Thanks.

The next day, another of Rep. Richardson’s staff members, Daysha Austin, used apersonal email address to send an email to the House email accounts of a number of other Rep.Richardson staffers stating, “The Congresswoman is asking all staff that has one to wear their staff shirt to tomorrow’s event so we can be visible and easily identified.”

Notably, the “staff shirts” employees were required to wear are white button-down shirts embroidered with thewords “37th Congressional District.”

Also on September 28, Ms. Cooks, again using her official email account, sent an emailat 11:30 p.m. to the House account of a House staff member asking if he was “available tomorrow at 5:30 to 7:30ish to cover an event at jones day that includes Pelosi, Clyburn and tenmore members in a talent show.”

The next morning (and day of the event), the staff memberexplained he was not available, which led another staff member to send the following email to Ms. Cooks:

Daysha just told me I’ll be taking photos at the event tonight. I explained to her I would be leaving early and she ignored me. If this is not somehow rectified I am prepared to render my resignation effective immediately. I am completely serious about this. In addition, for your information, I will be taking action against this office through House leadership if I am forced to go this route.

Soon thereafter, Ms. Cooks responded, “Calm down. Who do you know up there who could substitute? Someone in another office maybe who would do it as a favor?”

The staff member replied, “I don’t know of anyone who would do it as a favor, only those that do it for money, especially at this late of notice.”

Ms. Cooks agreed, “Ok. The campaign will pay.Rush to get someone please.”

In addition to requiring staff members to participate in the “Democratic Idol” event, Rep.Richardson also used employees to prepare materials for other campaign-related events. Using official office accounts, a legislative assistant sent an email to two other staff members statingRep. Richardson asked staff to prepare a binder for her for an endorsement event.

The staff member wrote that Rep. Richardson “needs a lot of the same information that she needed for herlast endorsement event,” implying Rep. Richardson previously had used staff members toprepare campaign material.

Rep. Richardson also attempted to dictate whether and for which political campaigns hercongressional staff were permitted to volunteer. Following a staff meeting in which Rep.Richardson apparently encouraged staff to volunteer on campaigns through the DemocraticCongressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Ms. Cooks forwarded a staff member’s request tovolunteer for a race in Tennessee.

In response, Rep. Richardson angrily wrote:

I am disturbed by this. I never authorized any staff tocommunicate to the dccc. I certainly never authorized staff toconsider a specific seat. Those are my decisions. The directionwas if someone was interested to see me NOT to go and do whathe has done.

Using Staff for Personal Errands
Rep. Richardson also appears to routinely have sent staff on personal errands.

A typical email, sent by Ms. Cooks to the entire office on September 30, 2009, reads “On an errand for CLR. Will arrive shortly.”

In eight emails dated September 24, 2009 through December 1,2009, staff members reported leaving the office to go to the dry cleaner for Rep. Richardson.

In additional emails dated October 20, 2009 through April 29, 2010, Staff Assistant Seng Peng indicated she would be out of the office on errands for the congresswoman.

House Ethics Investigation Rep. Richardson repeatedly has denied reports that an ethics investigation into her misuseof staff for campaign activity is underway, though she acknowledges that ethics investigatorshave interviewed her staff.

Nonetheless, several of the congresswoman’s staff members received an email from the ethics committee captioned “Investigation of Certain Allegations Related to Campaign Activities.”

The email further states “Pursuant to rule 18(a), thecommittee has authorized counsel to conduct interviews, collect records and other documentation.”

In addition, Ms. Macias stated in her resignation letter she was “deposed by an ethics investigator with a lawyer present.”

According to press reports, Ms. Macias said the investigation seemed to center on whether Ms. Austin “was being paid from her government jobwhile doing campaign stuff.”

Legal Fees

Rep. Richardson’s campaign committee’s April 2011 quarterly report showed thecommittee owed $129,280.38 in legal fees to three firms: Perkins Coie, Reich Adell and Cvitan,and Kaufman Legal Group.

Intimidation to Secure Political Contributions

Federal law prohibits members of Congress from threatening to fire, demote, or in anyway change the official rank or compensation of their staff members for withholding orneglecting to make a political contribution.

This law “protect[s] all federal officials . . . frombeing forced by job-related threats or reprisals to donate to political candidates or causes,” andshould be used “whenever a federal employee is actively threatened with an adverse change tohis or her conditions of employment to induce a political contribution.”

Coerced donations of anything of value, including services, are prohibited by this section.

House ethics rules also make clear “in no event may a Member or office compel a House employee to do campaign work.”

This broad prohibition forbids members of Congress “fromnot only threatening or attempting to intimidate employees regarding doing campaign work, butalso from directing or otherwise pressuring them to do such work.”

By forcing her employees to work on her re-election campaign on weeknights andweekends under threat of termination or other job-related reprisals, Rep. Richardson likely violated 18 U.S.C. § 606 and House ethics rules.In addition, by implicitly threatening reprisals for staff members who sought to volunteeron campaigns without her permission, Rep. Richardson likely violated 18 U.S.C. § 606 and House ethics rules.

Solicitation on Federal Property

Federal law prohibits any person, including members of Congress, from solicitingpolitical donations, including money “or other thing of value,” from anyone in a federalbuilding.

Violations of this statute “may arise from solicitations that can be characterized as’shakedowns’ of federal personnel. . . . [including] shakedowns of congressional employees.”

To the extent Rep. Richardson was on federal property while conducting any coercedsolicitation of “volunteer” service from her staff members, Rep. Richardson likely violated 18U.S.C. § 607.

Improper Use of Appropriated Funds

Pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 1301(a), “[a]ppropriations shall be applied only to the objects forwhich the appropriations were made.” Corresponding regulations of the Committee on House Administration provide that “[e]mployees may not be compensated from public funds to performnon-official, personal, political, or campaign activities on behalf of the Member, the employee,or anyone else.”

House ethics rules also make clear that “[e]mployees of the House are paid from funds of the United States Treasury to perform public duties” that expressly “do not include performingnonofficial, personal, or campaign duties.”

In addition, Rule 23, clause 8 provides: A Member, Delegate, Resident Commissioner, or officer of theHouse may not retain an employee who does not perform dutiesfor the offices of the employing authority commensurate withthe compensation he receives. According to the Campaign Booklet published by the House Ethics Committee, there is a”basic principle that government funds should not be spent to help incumbents gain re-election.”

The official allowance of House offices, and the goods and services acquired withthose allowances, are to be used for House business and are not to be used for campaign orpolitical purposes.

The Campaign Booklet clearly states that House offices, including districtoffices, are supported with official funds and, therefore, are considered official resources.

As a result, they may not be used to conduct campaign or political activities The Campaign Booklet provides two cases, one in which a member was criminallyprosecuted and another in which a staffer was criminally prosecuted, for misusing officialresources. In 1993, a former House employee pleaded guilty to a charge of theft of governmentproperty after he was found doing campaign work at a time that he claimed he was conducting official business.

In 1979, a former member pleaded guilty to charges of mail fraud andincome tax evasion in a case centering on claims that individuals on the congressional payrollwere paid not for the performance of official duties, but instead for staffing and operating variouscampaign headquarters in the member’s re-election campaign.

By using her congressional staff members to conduct campaign business during regularbusiness hours, including preparing binders for campaign events, coordinating a photographerfor the “Democratic Idol” fundraiser, and directing her district scheduler to schedule staff members for campaign activity, Rep. Richardson likely violated 31 U.S.C. § 1301(a), House ethics rules, and the regulations of the Committee on House Administration.In addition, by repeatedly using her congressional employees to run personal errands forher, Rep. Richardson likely violated 31 U.S.C. § 1301(a), House ethics rules, and the regulationsof the Committee on House Administration.

False Statements to Congress

Federal law prohibits members of Congress from making “any materially false, fictitious,or fraudulent statement or representation” on “a document required by law, rule, or regulationto be submitted to the Congress or any office or officer within the legislative branch.”

If Rep.Richardson certified on payroll forms she spent official funds only for official expenses despitefrequently requiring her congressional staff to perform campaign and personal work, she likelyviolated 18 U.S.C. § 1001.

Conduct Not Reflecting Creditably on the House

House Rule 23 requires all members of the House to conduct themselves “at all times in amanner that reflects creditably on the House.”

This ethics standard is considered to be “themost comprehensive provision” of the code.
When this section was first adopted, the Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct of the 90th Congress noted it was included withinthe Code to deal with “flagrant” violations of the law that reflect on “Congress as a whole,” andthat might otherwise go unpunished.

This rule has been relied on by the committee innumerous prior cases in which the committee found unethical conduct including: the failure toreport campaign contributions, making false statements to the committee, criminal convictions for bribery, or accepting illegal gratuities, and accepting gifts from persons withinterest in legislation in violation of the gift rule.

By forcing her employees to work on her re-election campaign on weeknights andweekends under threat of termination or other job-related reprisals, threatening reprisals for staff members who sought to volunteer on campaigns without her permission, soliciting donations on federal property, and using her congressional staff members to conduct campaign business during regular business hours and run personal errands for her, Rep. Richardson acted in a manner that brings discredit to the House.