Journalism in the Public Interest

California Congresswoman’s Redistricting Shenanigans Catch Eye of Ethics Committee

Per Politico, Rep. Laura Richardson used taxpayer-funded staff and resources in her campaign to manipulate California’s independent redistricting commission.

California Congresswoman Laura Richardson is under investigation by the House Ethics Committee for directing her staff to use government resources for redistricting work, according to a Politico story Feb. 13.

Richardson and her staffers, according to the story, recruited and trained citizens to testify before the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, even providing them with canned testimony, anonymous individuals told Politico.

Asked for comment, Richardson’s attorney sent ProPublica a statement calling the allegations in the Politico story “groundless,” adding that “to date, the House Ethics Committee has not issued any recommendations, conclusions or findings of any kind.”

The statement says Richardson is committed to following the law and House Ethics rules.

The rules allow limited redistricting work on taxpayers’ dime, but working outside the representative’s district and organizing testimony are likely violations. (Here is the full text of the rules.)

The California Citizens Redistricting Commission was created by the state’s voters with the promise of removing political influence from the drawing of new district lines — a high-stakes process that can guarantee a representative a safe seat, or virtually ensure defeat in the next election. To that effect, the commission pledged to use citizen testimony — not the wishes of politicians — as its main basis for decision-making.

But Richardson’s alleged tampering with the commission by manipulating public testimony would not have been unique. As ProPublica detailed in December, California’s entire Democratic congressional delegation held meetings in Washington, D.C., to strategize about ways to manipulate the commission. We found other members of Congress using a front group, drummed-up testimony and other means to dupe the commission into drawing the districts they wanted.

In an email obtained by ProPublica, members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines." As we noted, one staffer on California’s delegation sent more than 100 email messages about redistricting. The House Ethics Committee did not respond to our request for comment about the investigation, and whether it may go beyond Richardson.

Though I voted against the commission largely because I knew that the Republicans were going to use it to their advantage, vis-a-vis trying to redistrict themselves into a majority that they could not have gotten at the ballot box, I went through the preliminary steps to get a seat on the commission.  That there were orchestrated attempts to manipulate the commission does not surprise me.  Politics is partially about self preservation; Ensure yourself a seat on some body until you decide you don’t want it any longer.  There is always a little tit-for-tat.  Not codoning what anyone would do though.  The commission will go back to work in nine years though.

Warren P Peters

Feb. 15, 2012, 3:16 p.m.

I believe that this fall under the “I’m Shocked Ricky Shocked to find that you have gambling at the Casino.” Files This Idea was great as long as the board would work bipartisanly in a vacuum but as soon as you put a congress person’s job on the line they will use all their influence to protect their job.

Politics should be about representating the people that elected you, and, you would not have to worry about self preservation.

In response to Tom O, I would like to amend his statement about politics being partially about self-preservation.  It is all about self-preservation.  I am reading a book right now, The Dictator’s Handbook, that illustrates this with myriad examples.

Kelsey McDonald

Feb. 15, 2012, 6:55 p.m.

It is comforting to know that ethics committees are catching this kind of behavior.  Would it be more comforting to believe that public officials never acted selfishly or nefariously?  Absolutely, but we all know that’s never going to happen.  Great article ProPublica.

keen observer

Feb. 15, 2012, 8:43 p.m.

Interesting that her party affiliation is not stated.  By that I can only conclude she must be a Democrat, for if she were a Republican the article would have had that in the opening sentence.
Shame on you ProPublica, joining the vast number of complicit media outlets that advocate instead of reporting.

Like keen observer, I thought it strange that no party affiliation was mentioned.

Come on Propublica you’re supposed to be reporting in the interest of the public!

All elected representatives should be aware that they are beholden to all their constituents. Just because you are an elected Democrat doesn’t mean Democrats will forgive you for infringing upon basic rights.

“Ethic’s Committee”, that’s funny!  The committee has been investigating California’s Maxine Waters for years now.  Stalled, despite overwhelming evidence In fact, Sanchez, also from California, is a committee member who is under ethic’s investigation herself. The Ethic’s Committee is nothing more then a congressional defense fund.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

Redistricting: How Powerful Interests Are Drawing You Out of a Vote

How secret money and power interests are drawing you out of a vote.

The Story So Far

Redistricting should be a way of ensuring your vote counts. If all districts have roughly the same number of people in them and are drawn to respect natural communities—neighborhoods where people share a heritage, work in the same industry, or just generally feel tied to their neighbors—voters have a chance to be represented by politicians who represent their areas’ collective interests.

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