Let’s say a member of Congress violates the law by forcing her taxpayer-funded staff to work on her campaign. Let’s say she also improperly uses official resources for her personal use. And then, when Congress decides to look into the matter, she obstructs the investigation.
What is a proper punishment for the perpetrator?
How about a verbal reprimand and a $10,000 fine complete with a nice little payment plan? That’s exactly what Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA), one of “Washington’s Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” received for these exact same transgressions (click here for JW’s detailed dossier on Rep. Richardson).
Per The Hill:
The House voted to reprimand Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) for using House resources for her own personal purposes and pressuring and intimidating her staff to work on her campaign, after a debate in which Richardson continued to argue on the floor that the report mischaracterized some of these violations.
By voice vote, members approved the bipartisan Ethics Committee report outlining seven violations against Richardson, which includes the charge of trying to obstruct the investigation. It also recommended at $10,000 fine, which Richardson must pay out of her personal funds by December.
Ethics Committee Chairman Jo Bonner (R-Ala.) and ranking member Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) said the committee unanimously agreed that a reprimand was in order, and said this step is needed to ensure the integrity of the House.
"The recommendation for sanction we present to you today will ensure that Rep. Richardson is held accountable for her conduct," Sanchez said. "It will also reaffirm the credibility of the House by demonstrating our commitment to upholding and enforcing the ethics standards that apply to all of us equally.”
We’re not fools. This “punishment” does absolutely nothing to restore the “credibility” of the House of Representatives, which currently boasts a whopping 13.8% approval rating.
A sitting member of Congress violates federal law and brings shame to the House of Representatives and all she receives is a slap on the wrist fine and a stern “talking to”? The New York Times described the reprimand as a “significant embarrassment” for Richardson.
It’s a significant embarrassment, all right -- for the Ethics Committee, which clearly shirked its responsibility. Especially considering the gravity of the report’s findings as described by Reps. Jo Bonner (R-AL) and Linda Sanchez (D-CA), the Ethics Committee Chairman and Ranking Member, in a joint statement announcing the report of the Investigative Subcommittee (ISC):
At the completion of its investigation, the ISC unanimously concluded that there was substantial reason to believe that Representative Laura Richardson violated the Purpose Law, 31 U.S.C. § 1301; House Rule XXIII clauses 1, 2, and 8; Clause 2 of the Code of Ethics for Government Service; and other standards of conduct, by improperly using House resources for campaign, personal, and nonofficial purposes; by requiring or compelling her official staff to perform campaign work; and by obstructing the investigation of the Committee and the ISC through the alteration or destruction of evidence, the deliberate failure to produce documents responsive to requests for information and a subpoena, and attempting to influence the testimony of witnesses.
One of Richardson’s former employees, who came to Richardson’s office via the Wounded Warrior program, according to The Hill, had it right. She issued a stinging criticism of Richardson in her resignation letter, which was read on the House floor: “As a service-connected disabled veteran, it is sad to say that I would rather be at war in Afghanistan than work under people that are morally corrupt,” she wrote.
Richardson, despite the committee’s report detailing her many transgressions, was defiant to the very end. As part of the deal she reportedly struck with the committee, Richardson was forced to admit guilt. But that didn’t stop her from taking to the House floor to dispute the report’s findings.
The American people are sick and tired of politicians covering for each other. In fact, next to the economy, which we are told is the worst since the Great Depression, corruption is the most important issue for voters this fall.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal:
Reducing corruption in the federal government is Americans’ second highest priority for the country’s next president, according to a new poll.
That lofty aspiration for the next U.S. leader is only topped by Americans’ desire for the president to create “good jobs,” the study found.
The poll…by Gallup, found that 45% of Americans believe reducing corruption is “extremely important,” while 87% of them feel the issue is “extremely/very important.” The goal scored above a host of other presidential talking points, including “reducing the federal budget deficit” and “dealing with terrorism and other international threats.”
This certainly squares with JW’s most recent poll, conducted January 2012 in partnership with Harris Interactive, which found that the vast majority of registered voters (88%) believe corruption is a significant problem in Washington. That number does not figure to improve so long as members of Congress continue to look the other way when their colleagues stomp all over the rule of law.
Richardson should have been expelled.