Rep. Laura Richardson charged Friday the House Ethics Committee has singled her out for scrutiny because she's African-American.
Richardson, D-Calif., effectively announced the committee's investigation before the panel revealed it, accusing fellow lawmakers of ignoring wrongdoing by others in order to focus on her.
The Ethics Committee is looking into whether she improperly used staff for political purposes.
The committee is composed of five members from each party. The ranking Democrat is a Hispanic, Rep. Linda Sanchez of California. Other Democratic members are Rep. Donna Edwards, an African-American from Maryland; Rep. Pedro Pierluisi, who represents Puerto Rico; John Yarmuth of Kentucky; and Joe Courtney of Connecticut. The five Republicans are all white men. They are Rep. Jo Bonner of Alabama, the committee chairman; Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas; Rep. K. Michael Conaway of Texas; Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania; and Gregg Harper of Mississippi.
Since the beginning of 2010, an Associated Press count shows the House Ethics Committee has announced investigations or investigative results for at least 33 House members, 12 of whom are African-American. There are 43 African-Americans in the 435-member House. Some investigations involve multiple lawmakers.
The Ethics Committee had no comment on Richardson's allegations. The committee leaders did announce that the vote Thursday to establish a four-member investigative subcommittee was unanimous. Dent will head the panel. The other members are Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and Democrats Yarmuth and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico. Bishop and Lujan are not members of the Ethics Committee.
"We argue that the committee has chosen to unjustly target its investigations concerning use of official House resources for political purposes on certain members, while overlooking the well-publicized misuse of official House resources for personal purposes by numerous other members of Congress," Richardson said in a statement.
"Specifically, numerous members have used their House offices for personal lodging, in some cases for years, saving tens of thousands of dollars personally at taxpayers' expense," her statement said. "Under House rules, personal use of House resources is as impermissible as political use."
A number of House members have publicly acknowledged sleeping in their offices, but the Ethics Committee has not prohibited the practice.
Richardson also said she would "explore the issue of whether the Ethics Committee has engaged in discriminatory conduct in pursuing two investigations against me while simultaneously failing to apply the same standards to, or take the same actions against, other members _ of whom the overwhelming majority are white males."
The Ethics Committee last year concluded after a seven-month investigation that Richardson did not receive an improper gift from a lender, nor did she fail to disclose real property, income and liabilities on her financial disclosure forms.
This is not the first time the committee has investigated use of congressional staff for political purposes.
The committee in 2006 concluded an investigation of Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., with a statement that the lawmaker agreed to specific steps to ensure that his staff was not used for political purposes. The committee did not issue a finding that Conyers misused his staff but noted that the lawmaker acknowledged a "lack of clarity" in his communications with staff regarding their official duties.
The statement said Conyers "accepted responsibility for his actions."