California Dem Reprimanded for 'Threatening' Staff to Work on Campaign

The House unanimously agreed this morning to reprimand a California Democrat on charges that she abused her staff by forcing them to work on her campaign, "regardless of whether or not they wanted to volunteer."

The forced labor and intimidation by Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) toward both her D.C. and district staff, described at points as "threatening," got so bad that one staffer, a disabled veteran working for the congresswoman under the Wounded Warriors project, said in her resignation letter, "It is sad to say that I would rather be at war in Afghanistan than work under people who are morally corrupt."

House Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) noted on the floor this morning that in the history of the country five members of Congress have been expelled, 23 have been censured, and eight members reprimanded.

"Public office is a public trust … there is an unspoken duty to hold ourselves up to a higher standard," Bonner said. "Unfortunately, Rep. Richardson has not lived up to that higher standard."

The investigation began when the Ethics Committee in the 111th Congress received reports from Richardson's staff in October 2010, saying that she was requiring them to do campaign work. During the 2010 election cycle, Richardson compelled her district staff to work on her campaign each weeknight from 6:30 p.m. - 9 p.m., sans dinner break, with more work on the weekends.

Bonner said the committee received "desperate, sometimes emotional pleas for help from her staff" and, since the Ethics panel agreed to the report against Richardson yesterday, has received thankful calls from the congresswoman's staff.

Richardson signed off on the seven charges levied against her and waived her right to a hearing, saying she preferred to move on with the matter. She faces a re-election fight in a redrawn district against Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.); the state's Democratic Party has endorsed Hahn.

But when she unexpectedly rose to speak on the charges against her this morning, Richardson seemed anything but cooperative. She said that "contrary to inflammatory suggestions in full committee report" she did take the charges seriously, and she accused bipartisan committee investigators of prejudging her case and improperly influencing witnesses.

"I never told any staff member that they would be out of a job if they didn't work on the campaign," Richardson protested, stressing that she did not agree to all of the violations with which she was charged.

Still, she agreed to the reprimand and a $10,000 fine to be paid by Dec. 1. "I look forward to the resolution of this matter; in fact, I've sought the resolution of this matter for over a year," Richardson said.