Blake Farenthold, who resigned from Congress in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal, tried to steer a federal contract to a business owned by the chairman of a Texas port authority who donated almost $20,000 to his campaign and later gave him a job, according to a local newspaper investigation published Monday.
The Calhoun Port Authority’s secret decision to award Farenthold that $13,333-a-month lobbying gig shortly after his May ouster from Congress has sparked local controversy and is at the center of a lawsuit filed by The Victoria Advocate.
The newspaper’s lawsuit was attracting attention Monday after the release of a transcript of an Aug. 1 deposition, during which Farenthold made factually questionable arguments to defend his decision to renege on a promise to repay taxpayers $84,000 for a sexual harassment settlement. He also called the media “f-tards” for running him out of Congress, The Huffington Post reported.
Legal experts and a political watchdog group described Farenthold’s business favor as ethically questionable in interviews with the Advocate.
“The problem is, one, did [Farenthold] intervene appropriately?” Meredith McGehee, of Issue One, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that seeks to reduce pay-for-play politics, told the paper. “Two, did he do so because this entity or the people involved were contributors? And three, did he get this job as a reward for what he had done for him as a public official? And the fourth question is, obviously, what the heck is the owner of a dredging company doing as chair of the port authority?”
Farenthold’s office arranged a 2015 meeting with the Army Corps of Engineers for the port chairman, Randy Boyd, who tried to convince the corps to hire his dredging company, RLB Contracting Inc., for a job on the Houston Ship Channel. The Army Corps declined, citing “ethical and environmental rules that they had to abide by.” Farenthold's office followed up on Boyd's behalf, but was also rebuffed, the newspaper reported. The dredging project was not in Farenthold’s old district.
Boyd has donated $17,800 to Farenthold since 2011, including a $5,000 donation the day after Farenthold’s office began arranging the Army Corps meeting, the newspaper reported, citing Federal Election Commission records. Boyd had never donated to a federal political candidate before 2011. Boyd also gave $3,250 to Brighter Future PAC, which lists Farenthold’s wife, Debbie, as the treasurer.
Boyd has said Farenthold could help save the port about $25 million, or a quarter of the estimated cost to repair long-defective jetties in a ship channel. “The port is now obligated to pay a portion of the work, so changing that arrangement would require congressional action,” the paper reported.
During the Aug. 1 deposition, Farenthold said he’s helped many constituents who have had trouble with a federal agency, and he did nothing exceptional for Boyd, the newspaper reported.
Boyd told the Victoria Advocate that the timing of the meeting and the donation was “coincidental.”
The Advocate sued the port for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act when it hired Farenthold without posting a public notice on its agenda when it was discussed in May.