A Congressional watchdog group has asked the FBI to open a criminal investigation of Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.). Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) exposed internal emails and press reports that show Richardson repeatedly coerced her congressional staffers to work on her campaign or risk getting fired. “Richardson was vicious to her staff,” CREW’s Executive Director Melanie Sloan said. “She went through a lot of members.”
In a letter to the FBI, CREW also said it has additional information that members of Richardson’s staff were forced to make political contributions to her campaign and run personal errands for the congresswoman. Such activity is in direct violation of federal laws stating that congressional office funds must be solely used for official purposes.
Richardson’s office released a statement denying CREW’s allegations. Her communications director, Ray Zaccaro, said the information was made public months ago. According to Zaccaro, Richardson’s office previously confirmed that the House Ethics Committee interviewed the staff last November regarding the suspicious campaign activity.
CREW said a former staffer confessed that Richardson required congressional staff members to attend a fundraiser called “Democratic Idol.” Richardson’s chief of staff, Shirley Cooks, sent an email on her official House account stating:
All staff are required to attend Ms. Richardson’s event. Bring spouses and tell interns they have to be there as well. Thanks.
CREW also obtained emails eluding that Richardson ordered her staff to leave work and run personal errands on her behalf. One of the emails, also from Cooks, was delivered to the whole office. It stated:
On an errand for CLR. Will arrive shortly.
Zaccaro acknowledged the authenticity of these emails, but questioned the accusation that staffers were at risk of losing their jobs if they were not compliant with Richardson’s requests. “Nothing in the CREW letter or its exhibits supports the allegations that Congresswoman Richardson ever forced or coerced members of her staff to engage in campaign activity,” Zaccaro said. The House Ethics Committee is currently investigating the matter, but the status of the investigation is not public. The committee refused to comment.
CREW’s Sloan thinks the Department of Justice has a civic obligation to hold members of the House accountable for their actions. “The ethics committees are not tough enough on the members of Congress,” Sloan said. “So members feel like they can get away with a lot.”
Kristen Byrne is NLPC’s Capitol Hill Reporter.