A legal watchdog group has asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate allegations that Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) routinely forced her congressional staff to work on her campaign and run personal errands or risk losing their jobs.
A letter sent Tuesday by the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) alleges that Richardson intimidated staff into making political contributions, solicited contributions on federal property, improperly used appropriated funds and made false statements to Congress.
“Rep. Richardson presented staffers with an odious choice: work on her campaign, or lose their jobs,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.
A spokesman for Richardson’s office said the charges are unfounded. “The allegations in today's letter released by CREW are not new and they are based on media accounts, information and claims reported publicly months ago,” said Ray Zaccaro, communications director for the office.
CREW said its allegations are based on internal office e-mails it obtained as well as media reports in California. The group posted 62 pages of exhibits that it included in its complaint.
“Although there is some competition for the title, Rep. Richardson may well be the most ethically challenged member of Congress,” Sloan said.
Zaccaro said members of Richardson’s staff were interviewed by the House Ethics Committee in November 2010 in connection with the allegations and that the congresswoman and her staff have “fully cooperated” with the inquiry.
“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 in a statement.
CREW charges that Richardson required all staff members to attend a fundraiser in September 2010 called “Democratic Idol,” and cites an e-mail sent by her chief of staff, Shirley Cooks: “All staff are required to attend Ms. Richardson’s event. Bring spouses and tell interns they have to be there as well. Thanks.”
Staff members were also required to wear shirts to the event with the words “37th Congressional District,” according to the group.