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Richardson Racks Up Legal Bills

Legal Debt From Ethics Cases Dwarfs Cash on Hand for Re-Election

Rep. Laura Richardson has reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills because of a host of ethics allegations that have swirled around her office, depleting her campaign account and creating substantial personal financial liabilities for the California Democrat.

The Richardson for Congress campaign account did not pay down outstanding balances in excess of $115,000 owed to three law firms during the first quarter of 2011, even as it brought on yet another California law firm that specializes in campaign finance and ethics law. Federal Election Commission records show the campaign paid $13,000 for legal work performed during the first three months of the year.

At the end of March, Richardson’s re-election account reported $454,000 in debt — including about $130,000 in outstanding legal bills — and had only $36,000 left in its coffers.

The amounts owed by Richardson’s campaign to the law firms Perkins Coie, Reich Adell & Cvitan and Kaufman Legal Group don’t provide a comprehensive tally of Richardson’s legal fees. In 2010, the campaign gradually chipped away at its debt, writing checks totaling about $44,000 to cover current and prior legal expenses.

In addition, the disclosure forms of Richardson’s personal finances filed with the Clerk of the House for 2010 showed for the first time that the Congresswoman is personally liable for debts of at least $150,000. The form showed a debt of $50,000 to $100,000 to Perkins Coie and a second debt of $100,000 to $250,000 to O’Melveny & Myers. Richardson’s campaign paid O’Melveny $23,000 last year but did not report any debt to the firm. The campaign reports owing Perkins Coie $99,709, and it was not clear at press time whether this is the same debt that Richardson is reporting on her personal financial disclosure.

Last year, the House Ethics Committee investigated a mortgage transaction in which Richardson was able to repurchase her home after it went into foreclosure. She was cleared of any wrongdoing, but her mortgage broker was accused of filing false documents.

Richardson also acknowledged last year that the committee had interviewed her staff regarding allegations that she had required employees to volunteer for her campaign, but she contended that the committee had not launched an investigation.

On Tuesday, the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington asked that the FBI investigate the Congresswoman for forcing her Capitol Hill staffers to work on her political campaign, make political contributions of their time and run personal errands in violation of federal law and ethics rules.

The group released emails that appeared to document some of these violations.

Richardson’s office issued a statement Tuesday denying any wrongdoing and arguing that the CREW release did not prove the Congresswoman had done anything wrong. Her office did not comment Wednesday on the legal debt she is carrying.

California’s Congressional redistricting  is likely to force Richardson into a race against another Democratic incumbent.

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