Former Congressman Blake Farenthold made the list of disgraced former denizens of Capitol Hill who have moved on to other employment opportunities, but even his new job has come with plenty of controversy.
Roll Call recently profiled six former member of Congress who have left office in recent months due to various sexual harassment allegations, from Minnesota Democrat Al Franken to Michigan Democrat John Conyers. The story points out that the careers of those politicians are far from over, and most have landed quite nicely on their feet.
That includes Farenthold, R-Texas, who departed Congress in April amid a sexual harassment controversy.
Farenthold’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, alleged in a 2014 federal lawsuit she was sexually harassed and fired after complaining of a hostile work environment. Farenthold settled the case for $84,000 in 2015 — using taxpayer money — but didn’t admit to the complaint, which included allegations that he told another aide that he had “sexual fantasies” and “wet dreams” about Greene.
The U.S. House Ethics Committee was investigating the claims, and U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., told CNN that Farenthold resigned before that panel could rule against him.
Farenthold announced on a radio show in May that he now has a job as a legislative liaison for the Port of Port Lavaca-Point Comfort. There he is earning a $160,000 salary, not much less than the $174,000 he got for serving in the U.S. House.
Although a rule in the House prevents former members from immediately lobbying for the private sector — they must wait a year — they can lobby for government entities such as a port authority immediately.
Even setting aside that juxtaposition, Farenthold’s hiring at the port authority has been fraught with controversy. The local newspaper, Victoria Advocate, sued the authority after the announcement, arguing the move had been made in secret.
“No one has ever explained in any meaningful way to the public how it’s in the best interest … to hire this man for this job at $160,000 a year,” said the newspaper’s attorney, John Griffin.
The Texas Monitor reported in January that Farenthold was part of a Texas congressional delegation that fared poorly on an annual transparency report card for members of Congress, although he was among the highest ranking members of the Lone Star State delegation.
After taking heat for the hiring, the port authority’s board voted on a motion to fire Farenthold, but a three-to-three deadlock meant he got to keep his job.
Texas will hold a special election to replace Farenthold on June 30, and Gov. Greg Abbott had asked the former congressman to pay the costs, citing the $84,000 in taxpayer money that was used to settle the harassment case. But Farenthold has refused, writing to Abbott that “since I didn’t call it and don’t think it’s necessary, I shouldn’t be asked to pay for it.” The governor said Texas “has no legal recourse” that would require Farenthold to repay that money.
Farenthold previously said he would pay back the $84,000, but reneged, saying his attorneys advised him not to do so.
Johnny Kampis can be reached at [email protected].