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Office of Congressional Ethics

Abbott wants to send Farenthold a bill for the CD27 special election

Good luck with that.

Blake Farenthold

Gov. Greg Abbott is demanding that former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold “cover all costs” of the special election to fill his seat using the $84,000 the Corpus Christi Republican used to settle a sexual harassment claim years ago.

Farenthold, who abruptly resigned earlier this month, had promised to pay back the $84,000 — which came out of a taxpayer-funded account — after that settlement was made public last year but hasn’t so far.

In a letter to Farenthold on Wednesday, Abbott said the former congressman should return the money to taxpayers by funding the June 30 special election to finish his term.

“While you have publicly offered to reimburse the $84,000 in taxpayer funds you wrongly used to settle a sexual harassment claim, there is no legal recourse requiring you to give that money back to Congress,” Abbott wrote. “I am urging you to give those funds back to the counties in your district to cover the costs of the June 30, 2018, special election.”

“This seat must be filled, and the counties and taxpayers in the 27th Congressional District should not again pay the price for your actions,” Abbott added. He requested a response from Farenthold by May 2.

See here and here for the background. We all understand that this is just a stunt by Abbott, right? He has no more leverage over Farenthold than the Office of Congressional Ethics does at this point. Farenthold was never afflicted with a sense of shame before, and there’s no reason to think he will be afflicted by it going forward. It’s a feel-good maneuver by Abbott, and honestly I can’t blame him for it – if Wendy Davis were Governor today, she might well have sent a similar letter – but that’s all it is. That letter will have as much effect on Faranthold’s actions as any of my blog posts have had.

Someone needs to sue Blake Farenthold

That’s my response to this.

Blake Farenthold

Four months after U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold promised to repay an $84,000 sexual harassment settlement funded by taxpayers — and 11 days after the Republican resigned his Corpus Christi seat — he has yet to write a check. And with Farenthold out of public office and increasingly out of the public eye, there’s little anyone can do to force him.

Farenthold pledged last winter to personally repay the cash paid out by the federal government to a former staffer, Lauren Greene, who sued him for sexual harassment in 2014. When news of the settlement surfaced in December, Farenthold told a local TV station he’d reimburse the money that same week, saying “I didn’t do anything wrong, but I also don’t want taxpayers to be on the hook for this.” In January, he said he would wait to repay the money after seeing what changes Congress would make to policies around the issue, saying he wanted to seek legal counsel.

Then, he resigned abruptly on April 6 — days before the House Ethics Committee, which was investigating his misconduct, would have released its findings in his case, according to the office of U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, a California Democrat who has led efforts to reform Congress’s sexual harassment complaint process. After leaving public office, he immediately shut down his social media accounts and went silent. Requests for comment to his former staff were not returned.

The House committee no longer has jurisdiction to investigate Farenthold, though its members called on him “in the strongest possible terms” to return the money. But there’s no legal avenue to force Farenthold to repay the money — meaning the only option is “public shame,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director for the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

“He does not seem like someone who is easily shamed,” Libowitz said. “When this came to light, he said that he would pay it back, then started looking for more and more reasons to delay the payment. It became pretty clear that if he wasn’t forced to pay it back — which legally he’s not required to — he didn’t seem all that interested in it.”

See here and here for the background. The story doesn’t even mention the possibility of a lawsuit, so I could be completely out to lunch here – as we well know, I Am Not A Lawyer. All I can say is that some crazier lawsuits than what I am suggesting have gotten traction in the courts lately, so why not take a shot at it? Surely there’s a taxpayer out there with some time on their hands and the desire to throw a little sand in Blake Farenthold’s gears.

Hey, remember that harassment lawsuit against Rep. Blake Farenthold?

I’m just gonna leave this right here.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Rep. Blake Farenthold used taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokesman — the only known sitting member of Congress to have used a little-known congressional account to pay an accuser, people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

Lauren Greene, the Texas Republican’s former communications director, sued her boss in December 2014 over allegations of gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

Greene said another Farenthold aide told her the lawmaker said he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about Greene. She also claimed that Farenthold “regularly drank to excess” and told her in February 2014 that he was “estranged from his wife and had not had sex with her in years.”

When she complained about comments Farenthold and a male staffer made to her, Greene said the congressman improperly fired her. She filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, but the case was later dropped after both parties reached a private settlement.

No information was ever released on that agreement.

House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) told GOP lawmakers in a closed-door Friday morning meeting that only one House office in the past five years had used an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment complaint. Harper said in that one instance, the settlement totaled $84,000.

[…]

Farenthold is likely to face repercussions from fellow House Republicans for using taxpayer money to settle a harassment claim. Recent reports, including in POLITICO, revealed that $17 million has been paid out quietly to settle workplace disputes.

Harper said Friday that only $360,000 of that total involved a House office.

That, however, won’t stem demands from conservatives that members who have been part of such settlements use their own personal money to reimburse the treasury.

See here, here, and here for some background. Farenthold was cleared by the Office of Congressional Ethics in October of 2015, and the lawsuit was settled the next month. If it weren’t for the current national conversation about harassment and abuse, I’m willing to bet we’d have never heard about the amount of the settlement or the source of the payment. Farenthold has filed for re-election, but after what happened to Smokey Joe Barton, you have to wonder if that could change. ThinkProgress, the Trib, and the Chron have more.

Steve Stockman gets busted

Well, lookie here.

Steve Stockman

Former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, has been charged with violating federal election law.

Stockman conspired with former congressional employees to funnel money intended for a charity to his campaign, according to a sworn statement from an FBI agent unsealed Thursday. He is also accused of making false statements to the Federal Election Commission.

The allegations center on a $350,000 donation Stockman solicited from an unnamed businessman shortly after taking office in 2013, according to the statement. The money was supposed to go to a Las Vegas-based nonprofit called Life Without Limits, but Stockman instead “secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman’s campaigns for public office,” the statement said.

See here for my extensive Stockman archives. Here’s a longer story from the Chron:

Stockman said after the hearing that he had been targeted for speaking out against the Internal Revenue Service, and cited the right-wing conspiracy theory that contends bureaucrats are secretly running the U.S. government.

“This is part of a deep state that’s continuing to progress,” he said.

[…]

In court documents filed with the criminal complaint, the FBI agent said that shortly after Stockman took office for the second time in January 2013, he solicited a $350,000 donation from an unidentified “wealthy businessman” from Chicago on behalf of a Las Vegas-based nonprofit, Life Without Limits, which had been set up to help people through traumatic events.

The donation ostensibly was for renovation of a so-called Freedom House to serve as a meeting and training facility in Washington, D.C. The businessman’s charitable organization issued a check the same day.

Instead of going to the house project, however, the check was deposited six few days later in a Webster bank account set up by Stockman doing business as Life Without Limits – an account that had a balance of only $33.48 at the time, according to the agent.

“Beginning shortly after the $350,000 charitable donation was deposited into his Life Without Limits account, rather than spending the money on the ‘Freedom House,’ Stockman secretly diverted the funds to pay for a variety of personal expenses and to fund illegal contributions to Stockman’s campaigns for public office,” the agent stated.

Records show he made no “significant” contributions toward the renovations and that the Freedom House never opened.

According to the agent, some of the funds were funneled directly into the campaign through “conduit contributors,” who received cash from the Life Without Limits account and then made contributions to Stockman’s campaign.

Outside of court on Friday, Stockman said the amount in dispute is $15,000 – not the $350,000 described in court. He did not explain the higher dollar amount.

He said he has been investigated by at least three grand juries over the past three years after he tried to have Lois Lerner of the IRS arrested for contempt of congress in July 2014.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from a nonprofit group that wanted to sue Lerner and other individual IRS officials for allegedly harassing tea party groups that applied for tax-exempt status with burdensome scrutiny in 2014.

As trouble follows Steve Stockman like flies follow a garbage truck, Stockman was investigated for ethical issues in 2014, during his one-term return to Congress after winning a multi-candidate primary for the new CD36. By the end of his term, he and three of his staffers had been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury, which is what I presume led to this. There were also investigations by the House Ethics Committee, the Office of Congressional Ethics, and the Federal Elections Commission, which is an impressive amount of activity for one otherwise inconsequential single-term Congressperson. I’ll say again, he remains one of the most brilliant and underrated political performance artists of our time. We may never see his like again, though we may see his ass in jail by the time this is all said and done. Click2Houston, ThinkProgress, the Press, and Juanita have more.

Ethics investigator clears Farenthold

Some good news for a controversial Congressman.

Rep. Blake Farenthold

Ethics investigators struck a blow Monday to an ex-House staffer’s sexual harassment claims against Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, nine months after the fired communications director filed suit in District of Columbia court.

The Office of Congressional Ethics did not find substantial reason to believe Farenthold, 53, sexually harassed Lauren Greene, discriminated against her on the basis of her gender, or retaliated against her for complaining about the alleged unlawful treatment. In accordance with public disclosure rules, the House Ethics Committee shared OCE’s findings and announced it had not yet completed its own review of the matter.

Attorneys from another House entity, the Office of House Employment, are defending Farenthold against Greene’s accusations that the congressman discussed “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her with another one of his employees. Farenthold’s office has admitted the former talk radio host occasionally complimented Greene on her appearance, but denied making improper advances.

“Due to the ongoing nature of the lawsuit, the Committee has not yet been able to complete its review of the matter and therefore is not in a position to dismiss the matter at this time,” Chairman Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., said in a joint statement. “The Committee will continue its review and ultimately will take any additional action it deems necessary, consistent with the House and Committee rules.”

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for a copy of the OCE’s report. This is as good a result as Farenthold could have wanted, though there’s still the lawsuit and the House Ethics Committee investigation to get through; as the Trib notes, the Committee didn’t concur with the OCE report, so he’s not out of the woods just yet. Whether it dampens any Democratic interest in his seat, assuming that was a thing in the first place, remains to be seen. The Hill, Politico, the WaPo, and the Chron have more.