In-Depth: Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) introduced this bill to ensure that former members of Congress can’t become lobbyists until after paying back taxpayer money used to settle sexual harassment suits against them:
"People across this country are through with Washington getting to live by a different set of rules. Using taxpayer funds to cover up your inappropriate behavior, only to evade responsibility and then enrich yourself off your time in Congress is an abuse of power, an absence of character, and a violation of trust. Congress has made strides in promoting accountability and protecting victims, but more needs to be done to ensure this never happens again."
After introducing this bill, Rep. Walker added:
“It’s an abuse of power to use taxpayer funds to basically cover up their actions and then leave and make a profit off their time in Congress. There is a fundamental problem with that concept… I think Washington needs to take the lead in cleaning up its act. This is one step in being able to move forward to say, listen, we need to be governing our own selves and not just the people of the United States…. [T]here are consequences for our actions and to look the other way would be egregious.”
Michael A. Nemeroff, senior counsel at Sidley, one of the largest law firms in the U.S., points out a loophole in this law:
"It looks like this would be an exemption if a member of Congress were an employee, rather than a contract lobbyist. This exception should be considered by Congress if they're considering passing the BLAKE Act."
CNN also points out that there are ways around this bill’s provisions:
“[T]he new law does not account for a situation like (former Rep. Blake) Farenthold's, where he did not repay the settlement money, then resigned from Congress, and the enforcement mechanism goes away. This law, if passed, would aim to at least minimize the former member's power and influence on Capitol Hill if they do not repay the money owed, by barring them from lobbying Congress.”
Of Note: Congress overhauled its sexual harassment policy in December 2018 to require lawmakers to pay out of pocket for sexual harassment settlements. However, lawmakers can still draw from a taxpayer-financed fund to make initial payments on settlements, with the expectation that they’ll pay the money back.
This bill’s acronym is a reference to Blake Farenthold, a former Texas congressman who spent $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, then quit Congress without paying the money back in order to take a high-paying job lobbying Congress. When Farenthold’s settlement payment to a former aide was originally revealed, he promised to quickly pay the money back — but never did. Instead, according to the Federal Elections Commission database, Farenthold spent most of his leftover campaign funds on legal expenses, hotel stays, and even an $860 cocktail party.
Ultimately, a lawsuit from the local newspaper, the Victoria Advocate, over his hiring caused Farenthold to resign his position in January 2019. In his resignation letter, Farenthold wrote that he’d like to help the port that employed him as a lobbyist, in a non-employee capacity, “when it becomes legal and ethical.”
Ironically, since this bill only applies to lobbyists, it wouldn’t affect people like Farenthold, who was hired as a state employee and therefore not required to register with the Office of the House Clerk as a lobbyist.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
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