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Does the Ethics Committee discriminate?
The House Ethics Committee today announced that it has formed an investigative subcommittee to determine whether Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) violated Congressional ethics rules by urging Hill staffers to attend campaign events, run personal errands and work on her re-election effort.
Richardson swiftly slammed the probe — the second against her in as many years — as a politically motivated attack by an Ethics Committee that has chosen to focus its efforts on members of the Congressional Black Caucus, setting the stage for a racially tinged ethics showdown over how the committee investigates Members.
“Numerous Members have used their House offices for personal lodging, in some cases for years, saving tens of thousands of dollars personally at taxpayers’ expense. Under House rules, personal use of House resources is as impermissible as political use. Accordingly, I will raise this issue with the Ethics Committee,” Richardson said in a statement released by her office before the formal announcement was made. “I also intend to explore the issue of whether the Ethics Committee has engaged in discriminatory conduct in pursuing two investigations against me while simultaneously failing to apply the same standards to or take the same actions against other Members — of whom the overwhelming majority are white males.”
All of the current investigations the committee has publicly acknowledged involve black Members.
The investigative subcommittee that will determine whether Richardson committed any ethics violations due to the misuse of official resources will be chaired by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) and will include Reps. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.). A statement released by Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) said that Yarmuth had stepped in as ranking member for the investigation at the behest of Sánchez, who recused herself because of recent Congressional redistricting in California.
Richardson will likely have allies in her quest to show that the back-to-back investigations may have a racial component.
The Congressional Black Caucus has not been shy about criticizing an ethics process that has ensnared many in its ranks in recent years.
CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said today that while he did not have enough evidence to determine whether the committee’s decision to open the Richardson probe was racially motivated, the announcement is certainly raising that question among CBC Members.
“I get the sense that every time a case pops up there is another level of suspicion that this may have a racial connotation to it, racial undertones to it,” he said. “I think a person would have to be really jaded not to have at least a thought on the issue of race based on things that we’ve seen around here.”