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Updated: 11:27 a.m.
In the early months of Rep. Laura Richardson’s 2010 re-election bid, the California Democrat’s chief of staff traveled to Los Angeles, where she informed district staffers of the extent to which they would be expected to assist with their boss’s campaign.
“If you know anything about Richardson, you probably will not have a job, you know, if you don’t volunteer,” one former staffer would later recall Chief of Staff Shirley Cooks saying at the meeting.
“I don’t know if she meant to say ... we’ll all be out of work or if she was saying you will be gotten rid of. ... I took it to mean the latter ... [and] I took it to be coming not from Shirley,” another staffer told House Ethics Committee investigators.
A schedule of compulsory campaign work was implemented soon after the meeting; it required Richardson’s Congressional staffers to arrive at the campaign’s office in Long Beach, Calif., within 10 minutes of ending their official workday. For the next three hours, they were expected to make calls and perform other campaign tasks until their double shifts ended at 9 p.m.
At one point, Richardson even instructed Ken Miller, her district communications director, to “infiltrate” the campaign of her Republican opponent, Star Parker, by using a fictitious name.
“She told me directly herself that she wanted me to do that. ... My directive was to go and work for [Ms. Parker] as a volunteer and report directly back to the Congresswoman what my findings were,” Miller later told ethics investigators.
The meeting described in the opening pages of the report issued by an investigative panel convened by the House Ethics Committee to probe Richardson was the first act in a drama of dysfunction that unfolded over the next two years.
The House on Thursday voted to adopt, as a public reprimand, the committee’s finding that Richardson had likely violated both House rules and federal law.
The committee’s unflinching report, which was accompanied by the release of its investigatory findings, portrays a lawmaker who unapologetically misused official resources and abused Congressional staffers for personal gain.
“On an almost daily basis for months at a time, Representative Richardson used resources that had been paid for by the American people in order to accomplish not the people’s ends, but her own,” the investigative subcommittee found. “She also imposed on hardworking public servants the unfair and impermissible condition that their duties include service to her campaign. Once the Committee began to investigate this wrongdoing, rather than act to remedy the situation, she sought to obscure it from the Committee’s view.”
Richardson, 50, agreed to the panel’s findings as part of her settlement and will be required to pay a $10,000 fine.
“Representative Richardson takes this matter with the utmost seriousness and takes full responsibility for her actions and those that were done by anyone else under her employ,” a statement issued Wednesday by her Congressional office read.
The statement referred to a “Statement of Views” that the two-term lawmaker submitted to the Ethics Committee for “context and a fuller picture of the resolution to which she has agreed.”
Richardson’s submission, which accuses the committee of repeated procedural violations and the mishandling of witnesses and evidence during the probe, was the focus of an incendiary 16-page report the full Ethics Committee issued along with the subcommittee’s investigatory findings.
Richardson attempted to use her response to undermine the “factual, procedural and legal conclusions underpinning the result we reach today,” the committee said, characterizing her 22-page submission as an attempt to construct “straw men” in order to deflect responsibility for her actions.
Richardson had in fact been provided with “multiple missed opportunities” to convey her side of the story, according to the committee.
Instead, after the investigative subcommittee was convened in November 2011, she ignored requests for documents, destroyed evidence, attempted to influence witnesses and showed “utter disdain” for the entire process, the committee said.
It was not until mid-June that Richardson finally agreed to sit down with ethics investigators after asking that the interview be delayed because of her primary election schedule.
“Moreover, during her interview, Representative Richardson repeatedly made complaints about its length and ultimately demanded that it end so she could participate in an annual Congressional softball game,” the committee said.
Though Richardson arrived on time for the annual charity fundraiser on June 20 that pitted Members of Congress against the press corps, she declined to finish her interview with the Ethics Committee at a later date.
The two senior staffers on whom Richardson relied to relay her messages, Cooks and Deputy District Director Daysha Austin, received separate letters of reproval from the Ethics Committee on Wednesday, though investigators acknowledged they both believed they had been “co-opted” into Richardson’s scheme.
“Richardson relied on a combination of verbal abuse, inequitable official scheduling, and outright intimidation to conscript her district office employees in service of her re-election,” the investigative subcommittee said. “At times, she did so directly, but mostly chose to delegate these tasks to certain members of senior staff, including Ms. Cooks and Ms. Austin, all of whom were subject to the same pressures from Representative Richardson as everyone else.”
The pressure was so intense that multiple staffers told ethics investigators that working for Richardson had affected their health, their families and had even “shaken their faith” in the government.
“It has really put me in a really bad state of mind as to how I look at the country in which I was born. ... My hope is that anyone else who ever decides to work as a public servant does not have to endure what I had to endure,” Miller said during his interview.
“As a service-connected disabled veteran, it is sad to say that I [would] rather be at war in Afghanistan than work under people that are morally corrupt,” one former staffer said in a letter of resignation attached to the investigative subcommittee’s report.
Correction: August 2, 11:30 a.m.
An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the date on which Richardson met with investigators. The meeting happened in mid-June.