Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Former LA Congresswoman Laura Richardson still owes ethics fine

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Laura Richardson left Capitol Hill at the end of last year, after losing her re-election bid to fellow Democrat Janice Hahn. But Richardson still has some unfinished business with the House Ethics Committee: according to the National Journal, she hasn’t paid off a $10,000 fine for breaking House rules.

Richardson was formally reprimanded by her House colleagues last summer for forcing Congressional staff to work on her political campaign – something not allowed under House rules. Richardson pleaded guilty to seven counts of ethics violations, including trying to obstruct the investigation and pressuring witnesses. She agreed to pay a $10,000 fine.

But now it appears she hasn’t met the December 1st deadline to pay.

Richardson’s attorney, Joe Sandler, says the former lawmaker has paid “part of it” and has agreed to pay off the full amount. He says he doesn't know how much of the debt remains.

The House Ethics Committee staff director, Dan Schwager, says he “can’t comment on particular matters” – including whether or not Richardson still owes the money and if so, how much remains to be paid.  

Melanie Sloan, executive director of the political watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says there’s not much the Ethics Committee can do to force Richardson to pay the fine, since she is no longer a member of Congress. Sloan says it’s “unlikely” the Ethics Committee — which she describes as “toothless” — would sue in civil court, particularly since Richardson appears to have little money to go after. Her re-election campaign ended 2012 more than half a million dollars in debt. 

Sloan says the main reason politicians pay their fines is because it becomes a problem for them politically if they don’t. So far, Richardson hasn’t announced plans to run for another office.

“So much of ethics process is about shame and dishonor,” says Sloan, “but you have to be able to be shamed.”

But Richardson's attorney says the fine is a debt not just to the House Ethics Committee, but to the federal government itself. "It's enforceable," he says. "You have to pay it."

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