Politics

Richardson spokesman responds to damning ethics complaint by watchdog group

Jonathan Strong Contributor

A spokesman for California Democrat Rep. Laura Richardson is responding to a damning new ethics complaint by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) but failing to actually deny the allegations.

Spokesman Ray Zaccaro says the documents in the complaint don’t “support the allegations that” Richardson “ever forced or coerced members of her staff to engage in campaign activity.”

Zaccaro also says Richardson and her office “fully cooperated” with an Ethics Committee inquiry into the matter in November 2010. It’s not clear whether the Ethics Committee continues to examine the matter into the current Congress.

Zaccaro’s statement is notable in that, rather than deny that Richardson ever did, in fact, coerce members of her staff to engage in campaign activity, the statement merely denies the documents in CREW’s complaint “support” that allegation.

Neither does Zaccaro deny that staff members, including Richardson’s current chief of staff, Shirley Cooks, engaged in campaign activity with official resources, or that Cooks and other staffers required the rest of the staff to engage in campaign activity.

For instance, Cooks told every member of Richardson’s Washington, D.C. staff they were “required” to attend a fundraiser, a major violation of congressional ethics rules and potentially federal law.

Zaccaro’s statement doesn’t address that email or any actions by staff. (Richardson could face jail time for ethics violations)

Zaccaro also said the allegations are old news, pointing to news accounts from when former staffer Maria Angel Marcias resigned, telling a California newspaper she and other staffers were forced to work on Richardson’s campaign.

“The allegations in today’s letter released by CREW are not new,” Zaccaro said. While the “allegations” are not new, emails and other documents in CREW’s complaint are new to the public.

Zaccaro also noted that Richardson had been cleared on earlier ethics allegations by the House Ethics Committee on a separate matter regarding a foreclosure on a Sacremento property she owned.

“It should be noted that, over the course of nearly two years, CREW leveled allegations against the Congresswoman relating to the improper foreclosure sale of a home she owned, and although the House Ethics Committee cleared her of any wrongdoing in July 2010, almost a year ago, CREW has yet to apologize for or retract the unsupported allegations the group made in that case,” Zaccaro said.

Two staffers named in CREW’s complaint, Cooks and deputy district director Daysha Austin, continue to work for Richardson.

According to documents in the complaint, both appear to have engaged in political or campaign activity with official resources and instructed other aides under their purview to do the same.

Regarding Richardson’s specific involvement, the documents offer clues the congresswoman herself played a key role in the apparent ethics violations.

For instance, Austin, in an email to aides ahead of the Sept. 2010 fundraiser staffers were “required” to attend, said “The Congresswoman is asking all staff that one has 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.

In another email, Lucinda Richard says Richardson “asked” her to prepare a binder for what appears to be a political fundraiser.

In another email, Cooks recalls a staff meeting in which Richardson encouraged staff to volunteer to campaign with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

Richardson objected when a staffer said he was volunteering because he hadn’t consulted the congresswoman on which race he should campaign on.