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Ethics panel calls for reprimand of California Democrat

By Alan Silverleib, CNN Congressional Producer
updated 2:38 PM EDT, Wed August 1, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Laura Richardson misused official staff for political purposes, investigators conclude
  • House ethics panel unanimously recommends a reprimand and a $10,000 fine
  • Richardson is facing fellow House Democrat Janice Hahn in November
  • Richardson has represented Long Beach, California, in Congress since mid-2007

Washington (CNN) -- California Democratic Rep. Laura Richardson misused government staffers for a variety of political and personal purposes, and should be formally reprimanded by the full House of Representatives, according to a report released Wednesday by the House Committee on Ethics.

The committee unanimously recommended both the reprimand and a $10,000 fine for the three-term congresswoman, who has admitted wrongdoing and accepted the proposed penalty. House members are expected to approve the recommendation of the panel, which is divided equally between Republicans and Democrats.

A reprimand, which can come in the form of a letter and has no legal ramifications, is considered a less severe penalty than a censure. The toughest possible penalty is expulsion from the House.

"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 from the congresswoman's office noted.

Among other things, ethics committee investigators cite evidence that Richardson forced staff members to help organize and attend political fundraisers. Her "general practice," according to one document released by the committee, was "that the district office employees were not permitted to take a break for dinner or to perform any other personal tasks before reporting to the campaign office to perform campaign work."

Employees who refused "would probably not have a job," one staffer was told.

A written statement from the panel's top Republican and top Democrat strongly criticized Richardson, who has represented Long Beach since mid-2007, for "improperly using House resources" and obstructing the ethics panel's investigation.

The report also blasted the congresswoman for impugning "the hard work" of the committee and falsely accusing investigators "of a variety of procedural error and purported violations."

Noting that Richardson's own staffers first approached the ethics panel with a variety of complaints, the report emphasized that the "committee wishes to make abundantly clear that, in the credibility dispute Representative Richardson presents between herself and those of her own current and former staff whom she continues to attack, the (panel) sides with her staff."

The report noted that Richardson "affirmatively sought out a resolution" with investigators "and gained specific and significant personal benefit from the resolution." The report declined to state what sort of benefit Richardson gained through her cooperation.

Richardson, 50, will face off against fellow Democrat Janice Hahn, 60, in a redrawn district in November. California's election law allows the top two primary finishers to advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation.

Hahn, the winner of a July 2011 special election, is the sister of former Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn.

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