Rep. Laura Richardson reprimanded, accuses House Ethics Committee of influencing witnesses

The House Ethics Committee says there is
The House Ethics Committee says there is "substantial reason to believe" Congresswoman Laura Richardson violated rules by requiring staffers to work on her campaign.
Kitty Felde/KPCC

The House of Representatives has voted to reprimand Rep. Laura Richardson for forcing her congressional staff to do campaign work and violating codes of conduct for government service. The Long Beach Democrat pleaded guilty to seven counts of ethics violations and will pay a $10,000 fine.

Richardson took to the House floor Thursday morning to accuse the Ethics Committee of unfair tactics.

The House Ethics Committee outlined the charges: that Laura Richardson forced her congressional staff to work on her re-election campaign, obstructed the investigation and influenced witnesses.

Ranking member Linda Sanchez of Lakewood said it’s a cautionary tale, saying the boundaries between official, political and personal roles are sometimes clear and sometimes complicated. "This matter illustrates the consequences of failing to heed those boundaries,” she said.

But Richardson called foul, accusing the Ethics Committee of violating its own rules by prejudging "and improper influence of witnesses by the Ethics Committee." Influencing witnesses is one of the same things Richardson herself was charged with. Richardson said committee investigators indicated to witnesses that they'd already made up their minds of her guilt.

Richardson said there's "no doubt that a number of staff felt compelled or coerced" to volunteer for her re-election campaign. She said that wasn't her intent.

She also said she wasn't even present at the staff meeting where the "statement" about firing staff was made. The threat was allegedly made by her chief of staff, who received a letter of reproval from the Ethics Committee.

The reprimand is another blow to the three-term lawmaker's uphill re-election race against fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn.

The Ethics Committee report said Richardson compelled employees in her Long Beach office to do campaign work after their workday and sought to influence the testimony of staff members by suggesting they tell the committee their campaign work had been voluntary.

The Ethics Committee says Richardson is the ninth member of Congress in history to be reprimanded.

This story has been updated.