NewsLocal News

Actions

BLAKE Act would target ex-congressman for not repaying taxpayer funds used in settlement

Posted: 10:15 AM, Jan 30, 2019
Updated: 2019-01-30 11:15:54-05

By Sunlen Serfaty, CNN

(CNN) In a shot at former Rep. Blake Farenthold, a bill is scheduled to be introduced Wednesday in the House of Representatives — appropriately named the BLAKE Act — that would bar any former member of Congress from lobbying Congress if they have not paid back taxpayer money used in sexual harassment settlements.

Farenthold, a Texas Republican, has not paid back the $84,000 of taxpayer money he used to pay the settlement of a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment and improper conduct — money that he once promised to repay. After resigning last year, Farenthold raised eyebrows months later when he was back on Capitol Hill lobbying for the Calhoun Port Authority. Farenthold is not lobbying at this time.

Republican Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina will introduce the bill Wednesday morning. The formal name of the bill — the “Bad Lawmakers Accountability and Key Emends Act” — spells out BLAKE and, according to Walker’s Communications Director Jack Minor, is “ironically directed” at Farenthold.

Reached on the phone by CNN, Farenthold declined to comment.

If passed into law, the measure could not force Farenthold and other members with outstanding settlements to pay them back, given that it will not be retroactive. But if the bill progresses, Walker would ask House leaders to enforce it retroactively.

Congress passed an overhaul of the Congressional Accountability Act in December, changing the rules on Capitol Hill for how sexual harassment claims are made and handled and, for the first time, holding members of Congress accountable directly for sexual harassment settlements, not letting them use federal funds to pay them.

The way the new law is written, the settlement money still first comes out of a US Treasury fund.

Members are required to pay back the money directly. If they don’t, they risk having the amount be deducted from their wages. But the new law does not account for a situation like Farenthold’s, where he did not repay the settlement money, then resigned from Congress, and the enforcement mechanism goes away.

This law, if passed, would aim to at least minimize the former member’s power and influence on Capitol Hill if they do not repay the money owed, by barring them from lobbying Congress.

Farenthold was investigated by the House Ethics Committee over the allegations of sexual harassment by the former aide, Lauren Greene, who received the $84,000 settlement after she sued Farenthold in December 2014 for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

Farenthold denied some of the allegations against him but apologized for using for inappropriate language and his role in creating a hostile workplace. Farenthold resigned from his seat in Congress last April before the Ethics Committee could rule against him in its probe, according to the office of a Democratic lawmaker on the panel.

Farenthold vowed in December 2017 to repay the taxpayer money used for the settlement, but after he resigned he told ABC News in May that he had been advised by his attorney not to repay the settlement.