Did Richardson violate any of these laws? Richardson has denied doing so. Shortly after CREW’s letter in June, a Richardson spokesman said, “Nothing in the CREW letter or its exhibits support the allegations that Congresswoman Richardson ever forced or coerced members of her staff to engage in campaign activity.”
While the evidence in CREW’s letter does raise questions, it is far from clear whether any violations have occurred.
What is clear, however, is that significant consequences can flow from the mere appearance of possible violations.
Even if Richardson is ultimately vindicated, the consequences she has already suffered are not small. While it is not clear CREW’s letter resulted in any action, the House Ethics Committee had already been conducting a related inquiry of Richardson dating back to at least November 2010. Responding to such an inquiry can require substantial time and expense. Indeed, Richardson has disclosed that she has already incurred hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, some of which have almost certainly gone toward fighting charges of using staff for campaign purposes.
How, then, can your office ensure compliance and avoid the consequences that can flow from the mere appearance of violations?
Perhaps the most effective measure is to know the rules and to make sure that your Member and staffers know them, too. The line between official work and campaign work is not always clear. The House Ethics Manual devotes an entire chapter — more than 40 pages — to rules governing campaign activity. And there are many rules beyond those at issue in the Richardson matter.
As the campaign season heats up, if it has been a while since you and your staff have reviewed the rules, it might be a good time for a refresher.
C. Simon Davidson is a partner with the law firm McGuireWoods. Click here to submit questions. Readers should not treat his column as legal advice. Questions do not create an attorney-client relationship.