WASHINGTON - Long Beach Rep. Laura Richardson wove an "elaborate fabrication" in an "absurd attempt" to conceal that she improperly coerced staffers to perform campaign work, the House Ethics Committee said Wednesday.
The committee recommended that the full House of Representatives reprimand the Democratic congresswoman for violating standards of conduct and order her to pay a $10,000 fine by Dec. 1.
In a strongly worded 16-page report, the committee said Richardson admitted to all seven counts of violations and agreed to the proposed punishment, which awaits House action.
The committee concluded that Richardson demonstrated a "selective judgment of credibility" and "an utter absence of true remorse for her misuse of official resources ... as well as a near total deflection of responsibility for this matter."
"It is not this Committee, it is not other Members, it is not either political party and, most certainly, it is not her staff that is responsible for the situation Representative Richardson finds herself in," the report reads in part. "It is Representative Richardson's own management, Representative Richardson's own decisions, and Representative Richardson's own actions that are responsible for the existence of this matter, the resources they have required, and the damage to the integrity of her office and this institution that they have caused.
"That Representative Richardson still does not seem willing to accept this
The committee unanimously adopted the report of its investigative panel, in which investigators detailed the third-term lawmaker's coercion, attempts to alter evidence and efforts to influence the testimony of staff members who would be witnesses.
Adoption of the report by the House would constitute a reprimand.
The committee said it discouraged Richardson from permitting any staff members to work in her campaign in the future.
But it reserved its strongest words for Richardson's regard for the House committee, noting that she "acted with utter disdain," and used a "pattern of omission and deception" throughout the 20-month investigation.
For instance, the committee said Richardson repeatedly delayed the investigation by failing to provide documents in a timely manner even when a subpoena was issued.
The congresswoman even repeatedly complained about the length of an interview by the Investigative Subcommittee "so she could participate in an annual congressional softball game."
In the wake of the committee's public release of the scathing report, Richardson issued a conciliatory statement Wednesday.
"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," her office said.
The statement added that Richardson had decided not to request an adjudicatory hearing to defend herself, noting it "would consume many more months and considerable time and attention."
That's the kind of attention Richardson doesn't want as she battles fellow Democratic Rep. Janice Hahn in the new San Pedro-to-South Gate 44th Congressional District.
Richardson currently represents the 37th District, which includes Carson and Long Beach. She is a former Long Beach City Council member and briefly served in the state Assembly.
Although Hahn beat Richardson by a 60-39 margin in the primary, the state allows the top two finishers to run against each other in the general election regardless of party affiliation.
"The report speaks for itself," Hahn said in a statement. "The Ethics Committee has looked into this matter and issued a ruling, from which I understand Congresswoman Richardson has agreed with. ... Ultimately, the House will vote and voters here in the district will make their own judgments."
The committee findings were just the latest ethical black eye for the Long Beach congresswoman, who last year was lambasted by a watchdog group as one of the most corrupt federal elected officials.
Richardson was the subject of a previous ethics investigation surrounding the 2008 foreclosure of her $535,000 Sacramento house, which was sold at auction and then returned to her by the bank. The House Ethics Committee later cleared her of any wrongdoing.
The ethics charges have been a drag on Richardson's fundraising as her campaign was greatly outspent in the primary.
Hahn raised and spent more than $2.1 million and won the endorsement of the California Democratic Party. Richardson raised about $483,000 and spent about $403,000, according to the latest Federal Election Commission report covering through June 30.
The investigative report said the coercion of the staff began in early 2010 and continued in the current campaign even though Richardson knew she was under investigation.
"Despite being aware since October 2010 of the committee's investigation into her activities regarding the impermissible use of House resources and House staff for campaign or nonofficial purposes, respondent has continued to require staff members" in both her Washington and Long Beach offices to perform campaign work, the report said.
Among the findings by the investigative subcommittee in connection with Richardson's 2010 campaign were:
Richardson's chief of staff, in early 2010, told district staff members that they would be expected to work on the campaign. When one asked what would happen if he declined, he was told he probably wouldn't have a job.
Employees were expected to close the congresswoman's Long Beach office at 6 p.m. every workday and then go to the campaign office to answer the phone and perform "precinct walks." Staff members were not permitted to take a break for dinner or perform any personal tasks before starting the daily campaign work. Staff members also were expected to attend campaign events on weekends.
During the fall of 2010, Richardson directed a staff member to volunteer for her opponent's campaign under a fake name to gather information.
Richardson repeatedly called staff members who failed to attend campaign events in order to secure their future appearances. This was an attempt to pressure and intimidate the employees.
The congresswoman used staff members for a September 2010 fundraiser with a "Democratic Idol" theme, featuring members of Congress singing karaoke in a parody of "American Idol."
Richardson, described as "vindictive" by one former staffer, had a staff member review a spreadsheet provided by the campaign that listed individuals related to the health care industry. The aide was to compare the list with her official contacts on health care from her congressional work. When the aide expressed her concern about performing campaign work in the office, her work was given to another staffer so the health care aide could work from home on the campaign task.
In an October 2010 meeting in the Long Beach office, with the Washington staff watching by teleconference, Richardson explained she was under investigation by the House committee. She "attempted to influence the testimony of members of her staff by suggesting that they tell the committee that their work on her campaign had been voluntary, even though some of it had not" been, the report said.