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House Ethics Committee scolds Congresswoman Judy Chu

U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) lent KPCC's Kitty Felde her recipe for Christmas dumplings.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) lent KPCC's Kitty Felde her recipe for Christmas dumplings.

El Monte Democrat Judy Chu was publicly scolded Thursday for using her Congressional staffers for campaign work and then interfering with an ethics investigation that sought to get to the bottom of it.

The House Ethics Committee has issued a letter of reproval, a punishment that carries no fine.

Chu was accused of requiring office staff to perform campaign-related work in her House office, during regular working hours. There's an ethical firewall between work done on the taxpayer's dime and that done on a political campaign.  

After an investigation, the Committee found that Chu's staff performed "limited campaign-related work while in House offices and on official time, and that some of this work was not voluntary," but the Committee also concluded that Chu didn't know about it.

The reproval was for interfering with the investigation by "communicating with a member of your staff who expressed concerns about improper campaign work." Chu says she spoke to the staffer "one time simply to confirm facts based on the official calendar." She told the committee she regrets her actions.

The Ethics Committee called Chu's expression of regret commendable, but not good enough. By giving her own version of events to a material witness she violated a House rule. "You impeded the Committee's work and exhibited very poor judgment," the letter said.

In a prepared response, Chu says the incident grew out of her distress and outrage after her nephew's death from military hazing.

"I directed my staff to send emails to my supporters to talk about the problem of military hazing.  I expressly made sure there was no fundraising or campaigning involved with any of these emails.  While the Committee concluded that my staff sent the email from the wrong account, it acknowledged that I was not aware of this activity."

Chu says she's since added additional ethics training for her staff, required "signed forms acknowledging the separation of roles, and consistent reminders that the work is voluntary."

This isn't the first time Southern California Democrats have gotten into hot water with the House Ethics Committee. 

Former Carson Congresswoman Laura Richardson was reprimanded and fined $10,000 for forcing her office staff to work on her campaign and then obstructing the investigation.

Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters was the subject of an ethics investigation that dragged on for more than two years.

She'd been accused of using her position on the House Financial Affairs Committee to help a bank in which her husband owned stock. The Committee finally clearing Waters of any wrongdoing, but issued a letter of reproval to her chief of staff.