WASHINGTON ― Remember Blake Farenthold? He’s the former Texas congressman who spent $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit, and then instead of paying it back, he quit Congress and took a high-paying job lobbying Congress.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) remembers him. Walker plans to introduce a bill on Wednesday to prevent a member of Congress from ever doing that again. It’s called the Bad Lawmakers Accountability and Key Emends Act ― the BLAKE Act.
“Sometimes in Washington, the irony of how things like that come together is amazing,” Walker told HuffPost.
The bill would ban former members from ever lobbying the House or Senate if they had spent taxpayer money on a sexual harassment settlement and then didn’t repay the money before leaving Congress. Since the bill can’t be applied retroactively, Walker also plans to send a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) urging them to enforce the spirit of his bill and refuse to meet with ex-lawmakers like Farenthold.
Here’s an advance look at the bill’s text:
Farenthold, who follows this HuffPost reporter on Twitter, did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment via direct message.
Congress overhauled its sexual harassment policy in December and now requires lawmakers to pay out-of-pocket for settlements. However, Walker’s spokesman said, lawmakers can still draw from a taxpayer-financed fund to make initial payments on settlements, with the idea being that they have to pay back the money. Walker’s bill wouldn’t change that. But in the event a lawmaker tapped that account and quit Congress without repaying it, Walker said his bill would prevent them from ever gaining lobbying access to their former colleagues.
“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,” said Walker. “There is a fundamental problem with that concept.”
The North Carolina Republican said he decided to push this bill because it bothered him that there’s a sense outside Washington that legislators don’t have to follow the same laws as everyone else.
“I think Washington needs to take the lead in cleaning up its act,” Walker said. “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.”
Walker said he doesn’t have any co-sponsors on the bill yet, but he predicted it wouldn’t be hard to drum up support. He chuckled when asked if he’d been approached by Farenthold in a lobbying capacity.
“Ironically, no. Look, I don’t want to come across as God’s grace isn’t sufficient for all of us,” said Walker, who is a co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Caucus. “At the same time, there are consequences for our actions and to look the other way would be egregious.”
Farenthold won’t be in Washington anytime soon lobbying members. Earlier this month, he quit his $160,000 lobbyist position at a Texas port authority “to pursue other interests and opportunities.” He had only been working there since May, which was right after he abruptly quit Congress.