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A House Seat Won, a House Lost, and a House Leader Divided

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By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Every once in a while, events move fast in the nation's capital.

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Last week, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, through a spokeswoman, said it might be a good idea for the ethics committee to look into some financial missteps by Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) that have been highlighted in the press.

This week -- tomorrow, in fact -- Hoyer is scheduled to host a fundraising reception for Richardson to help pay her campaign's substantial debt.

Whoa!

Richardson was elected to the House last August in a special election to replace the late Democratic Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald.

Subsequently, Richardson lost her Sacramento home to foreclosure after failing to make payments. She also reportedly owed Sacramento County about $9,000 in property taxes and defaulted on loans six times on two other California homes.

On top of that, according to the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Richardson failed to pay an auto mechanic for hundreds of dollars' worth of car repairs and then abandoned the car at another body shop.

None of this was detailed -- as some of it probably should have been, according to critics -- on Richardson's legally mandated financial disclosure forms.

The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) dubbed Richardson a "deadbeat congresswoman" and filed a complaint. Both Hoyer and House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said that Richardson's woes might merit an ethics inquiry.

"Mr. Hoyer has always said the ethics committee should look at anything that's raised in the public sphere," Hoyer spokeswoman Stacey Farnen Bernards said last week. "That gives people the confidence that the House is policing itself."

But Hoyer's policy didn't deter him from going ahead with the fundraiser to help his beleaguered colleague pay off the $330,000 she owed as of last month. The event is scheduled from 5:30 to 7 tomorrow evening, in rented space at a private residence on Capitol Hill.

Hoyer's invitation seeks contributions of between $1,000 and $5,000 from political action committees, which are pools of money filled by individuals and used by corporations, industries and labor unions to donate to the coffers of lawmakers they wish to assist.


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