In the days leading up to a fundraising event last September called “Democratic Idol” — featuring lawmakers as musical acts and celebrity judges — members of the Congressional office of Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) were told they better be there, and they better be wearing the right shirts.
“All staff are required to attend Ms. Richardson’s event,” said an email sent by the Congresswoman’s chief of staff from her official House account. “Bring spouses and tell interns they have to be there as well.”
“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,” said a second email sent the night before the event. The shirts in question were emblazoned with “California’s 37th Congressional District” on the chest and had the official House of Representatives logo.
The emails, part of a larger set of exhibits released Tuesday by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington as part of a complaint sent to the FBI, appear to reveal an improper use of official government resources for re-election and campaign events that may run afoul of Congressional ethics rules or federal laws, legal experts told Roll Call.
The request for an investigation into whether Richardson forced staffers to perform personal errands and campaign work on the taxpayer’s dime is the latest in a string of ethical and legal scuffles that have plagued the California lawmaker, who is less than a year away from what will surely be a contentious primary in a newly redrawn district.
“The fact that this matter already appears to be under review by the House Ethics Committee should not deter the FBI from conducting its own inquiry,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan wrote. “The conduct described by members of Rep. Richardson’s staff is criminal, it does not merely violate House rules. Further, even at the best of times, the House Ethics Committee is reluctant to aggressively investigate its own Members.”
Seven months ago, Richardson’s office confirmed that the House Ethics Committee had “interviewed staff but has not launched an investigation” into allegations that mirror those described in CREW’s complaint. Last summer, the Ethics Committee completed an unrelated investigation of Richardson’s role in an unorthodox financial transaction that allowed her to repurchase a home that was in foreclosure. Richardson was cleared of wrongdoing in that matter, but her mortgage broker was accused by the committee of filing false documents in that transaction.
The Sept. 29 fundraising event, planned by a prominent Democratic fundraiser and hosted by a prestigious law firm, is at the heart of CREW’s request for an FBI investigation. Attendance required donations from $500 to $5,000 to hear performances by a lineup of lawmakers that included Reps. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.), Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and others, according to the invitation. Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and other party leaders acted as judges.
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