It seems my former boss is making news, yet again. First it was for her houses, not it’s for a $1,300 a month Lincoln Town Car paid for with taxpayer dollars. Remember that while you’re waiting at the bus stop or scrimping to pay for a couple of gallons of gas.
When she arrived in Congress last fall, Rep. Laura Richardson sought out a vehicle that would match her newfound status.
She settled on a 2007 Lincoln Town Car – the choice of many representatives who lease their vehicles at taxpayers’ expense. But hers was distinct: at $1,300 a month, it was the most expensive car in the House of Representatives.
Richardson, a Democrat who represents Carson, has since become known for defaulting on two home loans and losing a third house – in an upscale neighborhood in Sacramento – at a foreclosure auction.
But her history with vehicles has been similarly fraught. When she was a councilwoman in Long Beach, she crashed her BMW, abandoned it at a body shop, failed to pay a prior repair bill, and then racked up 30,000 miles on a city-owned hybrid in one year – apparently violating a policy against personal use of city cars.
In her brief stint in the Assembly, she leased a 2002 Lincoln LS for $304 a month – all but $36 of it paid for by the state. So Richardson was already well versed in the use of government vehicles when she got to Washington.
A protege of Rep. Maxine Waters – she calls Waters “Big Mama” and herself “Little Mama” – Richardson has worked to cultivate an image of success since arriving in Congress last fall. That effort evidently included a major upgrade of her publicly funded car.
About 130 representatives leased cars last year, according to a report compiled earlier this year by Taxpayers for Common Sense. Most were in the range of $400 to $800 per month.Richardson’s 2007 lease costs show up on a more recent congressional spending report, because she did not pay the bill until February. According to the report, her first bill was for $1,299, and covered a one-month period from mid-October to mid-November. She then paid a prorated amount of $2,035 for the 45-day period from mid-November to the end of the year.
That makes her lease $300 more expensive than the costliest car in the Taxpayers for Common Sense report. As of last winter, the newest member of Congress had far and away the most expensive car in the House of Representatives.
“A $1,300 lease is a gold-plated lease,” said Keith Ashdown, chief investigator for the watchdog group. “Because it’s federal money and not their personal money, they’re not looking for the best value.”
Rep. Diane Watson, D-Los Angeles, also leases a 2007 Lincoln Town Car, but she pays only $686 per month for it.
According to a former staff member, Richardson insisted that her Lincoln be specially customized, which may explain the high cost.
Richardson’s spokesman, William Marshall, initially stated that Richardson is paying only $940 per month for her Town Car, but gave no documentation of that. After he was presented with the expense report showing the $1,300 lease amount, he declined to answer further questions.
“No comment,” he said.
Richardson got the car from a local Enterprise Rent-a-Car office for her use when she needed to travel around her congressional district. The cost would not have been affected by her personal credit history, because it was paid for by the federal government. The price tag also did not include insurance, which Richardson agreed to pay for on her own.
At 8:30 p.m. April 3, a staff member was driving the car on the San Diego (405) Freeway, when he got into a crash. According to a California Highway Patrol report, the staffer, Henry Rogers, reported being struck in the rear by a white sport utility vehicle. The impact caused him to spin out and hit the center median and left major damage to the left rear of the Town Car.
The CHP report gives no information about the insurance on the car, other than to say that it was a “rental.” But Richardson’s subsequent actions suggest that Rogers may not have been listed as an eligible driver on her insurance policy.
According to the former staffer, after the crash Richardson required her district employees to buy additional insurance so they could legally drive the Lincoln. The former staff member did not want to be identified out of fear of jeopardizing future employment prospects.
Another former staffer said Rogers was not forced to pay for the damage to the car, but did not know how the issue was resolved.
Rogers referred questions about the crash to Richardson’s spokesman, who did not return a call about the crash on Friday.
Richardson did not report the crash to Enterprise, but it is not clear that she was required to, given that she was self-insured.
Records also indicate that Richardson owes $83 for illegally parking the Town Car in Long Beach. The ticket was issued Jan. 23, in the amount of $40, but has since doubled because it was not paid on time.
Richardson also owes $9,000 in property taxes on the Sacramento home, which she is trying to get back. The new owner of the home has sued her and her lender, Washington Mutual, after the bank moved to rescind the foreclosure sale.
“She’s got bigger problems than what she’s leasing,” said Ashdown of the Taxpayers for Common Sense.