A Republican member of Texas’ Congressional delegation is facing renewed scrutiny from his constituents over a previously reported sexual harassment case after a report claims he settled the case using $84,000 in taxpayer dollars.
At the center of the allegations is Congressman Blake Farenthold, who represents Texas’ 27th Congressional District, which stretches from Corpus Christi to Bay City and El Campo. Farenthold has held the seat since defeating Democrat Solomon Ortiz in a nail biter in 2010.
While he campaigned for Congress as a conservative, Farenthold has had a mixed legislative record and been dogged by headlines relating to his personal decisions, including wearing duck pajamas to a fundraiser (and also posing for a picture next to a scantily clad waitress) as well as saying he would challenge some female GOP senators to a duel if they were men.
Farenthold was also sued for sexual harassment in late 2014 by former staffer Lauren Greene. In the lawsuit, Green claimed she was told by another Farenthold aide that the lawmaker had “sexual fantasies” about her. When she complained about that comment and other inappropriate actions and statements, Greene alleged she was improperly fired.
Farenthold denied the charges and indeed in a letter to the House Ethics Committee the Office of Congressional Ethics, which investigated the matter, said “there is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Farenthold sexually harassed or discriminated against Greene, or engaged in an effort to intimidate, take reprisal against, or discriminate against her for opposing such treatment, in violation of House rules and federal law.”
Greene’s lawsuit against Farenthold was eventually dropped after both parties reached a private settlement.
However, new allegations from Politico raise questions about how “private” the settlement really was. The publication is alleging that Farenthold paid for the settlement using $84,000 from a Congressional Office of Compliance account.
After Politico published its report Friday, Farenthold said in a statement that federal law prevents him from either confirming or denying the allegations.
“While I 100% support more transparency with respect to claims against members of Congress, I can neither confirm nor deny that settlement involved my office as the Congressional Accountability Act prohibits me from answering that question.”
If the report is accurate, Farenthold’s settlement is only a small part of a much larger sum of taxpayer dollars used to settle workplace issues stemming from the U.S. House. Indeed, over the past 20 years, more than $17 million has been spent to settle sexual harassment claims and other Congressional workplace disputes.
Regardless of the merit of Greene’s accusations or whether Farenthold is guilty or innocent, taxpayers shouldn’t be on the hook for the bad behavior of politicians. And given the increasing frequency of these revelations, it’s clearer than ever that both the Capitol swamps of Austin and Washington D.C. must be drained and disinfected.
UPDATE: After this article was published,Farenthold told Corpus Christi’s KRIS 6 News that he would repay the money.
“I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this,” said Farenthold