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H.R. 931 (116th): BLAKE Act


Should a former member of Congress be allowed to lobby if they haven’t refunded taxpayers the cost of lawsuits related to sexual harassment?

Context

Former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX27) settled a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by his former aide for $84,000, but refused to reimburse the taxpayer-funded settlement.

He told ABC News that he didn’t reimburse taxpayers on the advice of his attorney, even though initially he had promised to do so. The funds for the settlement came from an account created for resolving this and other workplace issues in Congress by a 1995 law called the Congressional Accountability Act

Farenthold resigned from Congress in April 2018, and took a $160,000 per year lobbying position as a legislative liaison (a.k.a. as a lobbyist) for the Texas-based Calhoun Port Authority.

What the bill does

The BLAKE (Bad Lawmakers Accountability and Key Emends) Act would ban former members of Congress from lobbying Congress unless they reimburse taxpayers for sexual harassment lawsuit or settlement costs.

The bill would not apply retroactively, meaning that it would not apply towards its namesake Blake Farenthold. Nor would it apply to other Congress members forced out recently in light of sexual harassment claims such as former Rep. John Conyers (D-MI13).

It was introduced on January 30 as H.R. 931 by Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC6).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the bill holds former politicians to appropriate ethical standards after they’ve committed heinous acts.

“People across this country are through with Washington getting to live by a different set of rules,” Rep. Walker said in a press release. “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.”

GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any public statements of opposition.

Odds of passage

The bill has not yet attracted any cosponsors, although it’s only been introduced for a few days yet. The content certainly seems like something that could attract cosponsors on both sides of the aisle.

It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

When a local Texas newspaper, the Victoria Caller, called Farenthold to ask about the bill now bearing his name, he hung up.

Last updated Feb 7, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 30, 2019.


Bad Lawmakers Accountability and Key Emends Act or the BLAKE Act

This bill prohibits a former Member of Congress from serving as a lobbyist until such former Member reimburses the Treasury for the amount paid as a settlement or award to an employee for a claim alleging harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or veteran status, or retaliation for reporting these types of harassment.