Congress’ sexual harassment woes worsened this week with a Politico report that names Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold as the one member of the House of Representatives who, in the past five years, used taxpayer dollars from an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment case against his office. Farenthold joins Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken in the list of sitting federal legislators accused of sexual harassment.
In the national moment of reckoning with sexual misconduct, Congress’ convoluted sexual harassment policies—both the House and the Senate recently mandated anti-sexual-harassment training—have come under scrutiny, as have recently revealed records showing that the Office of Compliance had paid out more than $17 million in employment settlements since 1997. The little-known Office of Compliance, which was created by Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 amid a sexual misconduct scandal that ended in Sen. Bob Packwood’s resignation, is the legislative branch’s version of a human resources department.
According to the Politico report, Rep. Gregg Harper, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, told his GOP colleagues Friday that only one House office had used Office of Compliance funds to resolve a sexual harassment complaint in the past five years; that settlement totaled $84,000. And while Farenthold’s office refused to confirm whether it was the office in question, Politico reports that the settlement went to the Texas Republican’s former communications director Lauren Greene, who in 2014 filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that alleged sexual harassment, discriminatory behavior, and a hostile work environment. The filing detailed, for example, that Farenthold had told an assistant that he had “sexual fantasies” about Greene and shared details about his sex life with Greene. Greene also complained about “hostile” behavior by Chief of Staff Bob Haueter and then was dismissed from her position shortly after. At the time, Farenthold and Greene drafted a joint statement, which they ultimately never released; in it, Farenthold said that he “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing.”
Settlement aside, Farenthold has a track record of sexist behavior. This summer, he used casually violent rhetoric (“clearly tongue in cheek,” he later said) when criticizing a female Republican lawmaker opposing a GOP bill to repeal Obamacare (left unnamed but clearly Sen. Susan Collins), saying, “If it was a guy from south Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.” (A hot mic later captured Collins’ sharp-tongued response.) Farenthold also notably dismissed President Trump’s crude Access Hollywood comments as “locker room talk” before fumbling a hypothetical question about whether the statement “I really like raping women” would be enough to prompt him to disavow Trump. Farenthold subsequently apologized for and clarified his response to the hypothetical.
The $84,000 payout, however, is only a fraction of the taxpayer money that went toward congressional settlements in 2014; that year, the Office of Compliance doled out $806,450 for other types of complaints. Members of Congress can tap into other funds to reach settlements, such as Conyers’ use of his own office’s money to resolve a claim in 2015.
As an official who promotes a “crackdown on waste, fraud, and the abuse of federal dollars,” Farenthold is engaging in some serious hypocrisy to use constituents’ money to pay for his own or his employees’ alleged indiscretions. One way to prevent such unseemly spending? Refraining from behavior that might result in a sexual harassment complaint.