Rep. Cleaver backs Dem lawmaker in primary fight amid ethics controversies

The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) has endorsed Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.), whose primary bid against a Democratic incumbent has been plagued by ethics controversies. 

CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver’s (D-Mo.) backing of Richardson is significant because she is fighting for her political life and some members of the CBC have not gotten involved in the race. Richardson is a member of the CBC, while her opponent, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Calif.), is not.

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Despite an ongoing investigation by the House Ethics Committee into allegations that Richardson used House staff to work on campaign-related activities, Cleaver indicated his backing was never in doubt.

“I’m going to support my members of the CBC,” Cleaver told The Hill. “I mean, for the chair not to support one of the members is just blasphemy.” 

The CBC, as an entity, does not endorse candidates, Cleaver pointed out. 

Richardson told The Hill that all but three members of the CBC have backed her. She declined to name names, however. Richardson’s campaign on Tuesday touted endorsements from members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), including Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.), Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.) and Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).

Spokespeople for Baca, Cardoza and Gutierrez could not be reached by press time.

Hahn has attracted endorsements from three of her House colleagues from California — Reps. Grace Napolitano, John Garamendi and Jackie Speier — and former Rep. Diane Watson (D-Calif.), according to Hahn’s office. Watson is a former member of the CBC.

Some high-profile Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have not picked sides in the June 5 primary. 

Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.), the top-ranking Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is also not getting involved in the Richardson-Hahn race. Waxman has been very vocal in another member-versus-member race, between California Democratic Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman. 

“I’m very loath to give out endorsements in Democratic primaries,” said Waxman, who has backed Berman over Sherman. “There are a few exceptions, and I try to keep them … rare.”

Only one member has donated money to Hahn since she announced her bid for the 44th district seat last summer, though it is a powerful declaration of support. The head of the House Democratic Caucus and the fourth ranking Democrat, Rep. John Larson (Conn.), gave $1,000 to Hahn's campaign less than two weeks ago, according to a copy of a check provided to The Hill by her campaign spokesman.

Four CBC lawmakers  — Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Del. Donna Christensen (D-Virgin Islands), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) — have given to Richardson.

But giving money doesn’t necessarily translate into an endorsement. Asked whom he was backing in the intraparty contest, Clyburn told The Hill that he will not be issuing a public endorsement.

Richardson has claimed she has been singled out for violating House rules by misusing official resources while other lawmakers frequently abuse their privileges without so much as a slap on the wrist. 

She has pointed to members who sleep in their Capitol Hill offices as an example. But some have worried privately that she might try to expose other ethics violations among her colleagues, especially if she loses to Hahn. 

Richardson also has said white members do not get investigated as often as black legislators. 

Hahn has been reluctant to launch direct political attacks on Richardson over the ethics investigation, saying that voters will decide whether to make an issue out of the allegations. But her campaign has alluded to them. 

“Voters in this district are really looking for local leaders who have a proven track record of honesty, integrity and values,” said Dave Jacobson, a spokesman for Hahn’s campaign. 

“So those are things that Congresswoman Laura Richardson is going to have to address specifically with voters in the district. I think it’s something that voters will obviously want to know about,” he added.

Jacobson noted that Hahn has been endorsed by the California Democratic Party.

Hahn, who filled the seat of retiring Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) last year, had only $76,000 cash on hand at the end of 2011 while Richardson had $132,000 in the bank. However, Richardson’s campaign was $442,000 in debt while Hahn’s debt figure is $156,000, according to the most recent publicly available figures. 

Richardson, who is in her third term, attracted headlines in the last Congress when the Ethics Committee cleared her of wrongdoing on the sale of her foreclosed home. Richardson has defaulted on three homes, but she was deemed by the Ethics panel to be a victim of mortgage fraud.

Updated at 1:55 p.m. and 5:52 p.m.



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