For the second time in as many weeks, we use this space to present “Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for your bad behavior, Mr. or Ms. Legislator.”
Earlier this month, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, joined the men of the Senate Democratic Caucus and all of the Senate’s female members in calling for a vote on rewriting Capitol Hill’s workplace harassment rules — a public show of solidarity with every female senator in both parties.
Cruz, the chief GOP co-author of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) strict Hill harassment overhaul bill, was courted to sign on to the Democratic men’s letter and ultimately agreed in the final hours before its release, Politico.com reported.
Asked earlier that day whether he would join Democratic men on the letter pushing for a harassment vote, Cruz called the harassment legislation “the right thing to do.”
“We should have passed it weeks ago, and so anything I can do to encourage my colleagues — Republican or Democrat — to take it up on the floor of the Senate, I’m supportive of doing,” Cruz said in an April 18 interview.
Well done, Sen. Cruz. Workplace harassment should not be tolerated anywhere, including the U.S. Senate.
Correspondingly, as we wrote Thursday, taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for behavior by elected officials which has nothing to do with official duties. Such behavior, we feel, is solely the responsibility of that elected official.
Not every sexual harassment complaint is found to have validity. But if a sexual-harassment complaint has reached the settlement stage – where the accused has agreed to a cash payment to settle a claim — that’s personal bad behavior.
If a member of Congress has settled a sexual harassment complaint, there is no way that taxpayers should have to pay for that.
Which brings us to former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. He resigned from Congress on April 6; in December he announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018 after reports emerged that he’d used taxpayer money to settle sexual harassment claims. A few of his Republican colleagues urged him to resign over the accusations, which Farenthold has repeatedly denied.
“While I planned on serving out the remainder of my term in Congress, I know in my heart it’s time for me to move along and look for new ways to serve,” he said in the statement.
Farenthold used $84,000 in taxpayer funds to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit his former communications director, Lauren Greene, had filed in 2014, Politico reported in December. Greene accused Farenthold of telling her he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about her, and then claimed she was fired after complaining to Farenthold.
“I had no idea how to run a congressional office,” the four-term congressman said in December. “As a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional.”
Farenthold said after the reports broke that he would repay the $84,000 to the Treasury Department, but has not made good on that promise. A representative for his office told HuffPost.com in February that the congressman was waiting to see what changes lawmakers will add to the Congressional Accountability Act.
The House-passed harassment bill, the product of extensive bipartisan talks in that chamber, would require lawmakers to personally pay the costs of harassment or discrimination claims filed by employees that stem from their behavior, among other reforms.
We feel that the status of the bill in the Senate should have no bearing on Farenthold’s case. Beyond legal obligations, it’s just plain wrong – unconscionable, really – for any member of Congress to think that taxpayer funds can be justifiably used to settle a sexual harassment complaint.
To be clear, this isn’t a Republican problem or a Democratic problem, it’s an American problem: In November, the Washington Post reported that Congress’s Office of Compliance paid out $17 million for 264 settlements with federal employees over 20 years for various violations, including sexual harassment. That same month, Buzzfeed.com reported that U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged she was fired because she would not “succumb to (his) sexual advances.” Conyers resigned in December.
The allegations against Conyers are no less disgusting than those against Farenthold; in both cases, payment for settlements should come out of their wallets, not ours.