Representative Blake Farenthold (R-TX) used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim made by a former aide who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014, according to a Washington Post report. The amount totaled $84,000 and was taken from a little-known treasury department fund created to cover workplace settlements involving lawmakers.
The suit was filed by his former communications director Lauren Greene, who accused Farenthold of making sexual comments aimed at Greene to determine if she was interested in a sexual relationship with him. Greene alleged that Farenthold told her he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her, and that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years”. She also accused him of drinking “to excess” on multiple occasions. When she complained, Ms. Greene says that she was improperly fired. According to Alexis Ronickher, a Washington employment lawyer who has represented congressional employees in workplace complaints, “$84,000 is a very modest return” given the alleged conduct and emotional and professional risks involved in a lawsuit.
The same year that Ms. Greene accused him, Rep. Farenthold announced that he would give up the sexually explicit domain name “blowme.org“, which he had acquired as part of a past venture when he was in the business of selling domain addresses. Farenthold “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing“.
This is not the first time that treasury fund has been used to cover claims against a House member’s office — six claims have been paid for since 2013, ranging from employment discrimination to retaliation. The six settlements totaled $359,450.
The treasury fund is not the only source for settlement payments; Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) used his own office budgets to settle and hide complaints. Those types of payments are surprisingly easy to conceal, even on congressional offices’ records.
The rise in allegations against lawmakers has led the House ethics committee to review claims of sexual harassment and other misconduct by all current members and employees of the House. Two members of Congress, Rep. Conyers and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), are currently under investigation by congressional ethics committees. It has been indicated that this review will begin Friday.
There is hope that these investigations will prompt bipartisan legislation which releases parties of such suits from the mandatory nondisclosure agreements in order to increase transparency. Over the last 20 years, the U.S. Treasury has paid more than $17 million for settlements — including those for sexual harassment.
Photo: Bill Clark / Getty Images