Democratic Rep. Laura Richardson could face jail time for ethics violations

New documents disclosed in a complaint from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) appear to show California Democrat Rep. Laura Richardson and her staff clearly violating congressional ethics rules and potentially federal law.

The documents show Richardson using official taxpayer resources for political events, including fundraisers. “Rep. Richardson didn’t just violate House rules, she likely committed crimes,” said Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director.

In one instance, Richardson’s chief of staff, Shirley Cooks, told all of Richardson’s aides in an email from her official House account, “All staff are required to attend” a fundraiser held Sept. 29, 2010, adding, “Bring spouses and tell interns they have to be there as well. Thanks.”

Another staffer, Daysha Austin, then a district scheduler, told staffers, “The Congresswoman is asking all staff that has one to wear their staff shirt to tomorrow’s event so we can be visible and easily identified.”

The “staff shirt,” pictured in CREW’s complaint, features a logo that says “California’s 37th Congressional District,” the district that Richardson represents.

The demands on staff to attend a fundraiser and use of official email accounts and resources to coordinate political activities clearly violate congressional ethics rules that taxpayer dollars “may not pay for campaign expenses.”

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A strict wall separates official congressional office work from political campaigning; lawmakers and their staff may not even make one phone call for campaign purposes from a congressional office phone, for instance.

While it’s not uncommon for lawmakers to stretch these rules to a degree, flagrant rule breaking in written documents is highly unusual.

CREW included the documents in a complaint to the FBI asking for an investigation. The watchdog group says Richardson’s conduct likely violated federal law. One lawyer told The Daily Caller if Richardson was found guilty of these allegations the maximum jail sentence would be around 13 years, but given Richardson’s lack of criminal history, she would probably be sentenced to less than five years in jail.

Another email included in the complaint shows Richardson asking staff to prepare her for political events.

Richardson “has an event this Saturday (something along the lines of ‘California Dem Party Endorsement’) and she asked staff prepare a binder for her. She needs a lot of the same information that she needed for her last endorsement event (was it Sunday?). I was hoping you could compile a binder again using the same materials from last weekend,” wrote Lucinda Richard, a legislative assistant to Richardson in a March 17, 2010 email.

Another email shows active involvement by Richardson herself regarding one of her official staffer’s political activities.

When staffer Thorne Maginnis requested vacation time to volunteer in a Tennessee congressional campaign, Richardson expressed umbrage she hadn’t been consulted on where Maginnis would campaign.

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“I am disturbed by this. I have never authorized any staff to communicate to the [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committeee (DCCC)]. I certainly never authorized staff to consider a specific seat. Those are my decisions. The direction was if someone was interested to see me and NOT to go and do what he has done,” Richardson wrote from a personal email account.