WASHINGTON -- In an embarrassment for Democrats, the House on Thursday reprimanded Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) -- and slapped her with a $10,000 fine -- for ethics violations relating to inappropriate use of her official staff for campaign and personal needs.
The House quietly adopted the resolution by voice vote, making Richardson the ninth lawmaker in history to be formally reprimanded by Congress. She agreed to all seven charges brought against her, ranging from improper use of House resources to "attempting to intimidate" official staff into doing campaign work to obstructing the committee's investigation.
In Richardson's official response, per materials released by the House Ethics Committee, she states that she "did not intend that her staff feel compelled or coerced to work on her campaign" and that she didn't "ever intend to obstruct the Committee's investigation in any way."
The committee's report included some harsh criticisms of Richardson's work ethic. During the floor debate on the resolution, House Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) read aloud comments made by one of Richardson's former staffers, a disabled veteran, who had told the committee that she "would rather be at war in Afghanistan than work under people who are morally corrupt."
"I am simply haunted" by that statement, Bonner said. "While some might prefer a harsher sentence, perhaps even a few might think a reprimand is too severe, I urge my colleagues to support the unanimous recommendation of the only evenly divided committee in this House of Representatives."
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), who chairs the subcommittee that oversaw the committee's investigation, said he did "not relish" speaking on the House floor about the matter.
"This is, indeed, a solemn moment," Dent said.
Some rose in defense of Richardson. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said he knows that she "regrets the violations and hopes that the reprimand by the House will allow both her and the House to move on to address the great issues facing the nation."
In an unexpected move, Richardson herself rose to give remarks and, during an awkward few minutes, said the committee report unfairly characterized her.
"First, I want to assure my colleagues that, contrary to the inflammatory suggestions in the full committee report, I do take these findings very seriously," she said. "Second, I set forth in my statement of views ... several significant concerns about the manner in which the committee conducted this investigation."
Richardson went on to accuse committee members of "prejudgment and improper influence of witnesses," which "clearly influenced subsequent staff testimony."
She sparred briefly with Bonner over how much time she had left to keep talking. When he said everything Richardson was saying was already in the committee report, she fired back, "I was told that I would be allowed additional time to complete my presentation." She got another five minutes in before Bonner gave his closing remarks, which weren't kind to Richardson.
"There is an unspoken duty to hold ourselves up to a higher standard," Bonner said. "Unfortunately, as Rep. Richardson has admitted, she did not live up to this higher standard. She did a disservice to her staff, to her colleagues and while it is ultimately up to her constituents in California to be the final judge of her actions, I think it's safe to say she did a disservice to the hardworking taxpayers from all corners of this country who expect and deserve more from their elected leaders."