The number of sexual misconduct claims against powerful elected officials is stacking up.
On Wednesday, a woman accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D) of making unwanted sexual advances toward her following a radio show in 2006. The woman claimed that Franken had tried to forcibly kiss her, excusing his behavior by saying that it was “[his] right as an entertainer.” The unnamed woman’s account was only the latest in a line of accusations against the Minnesota senator, who has faced allegations of inappropriate behavior from eight women.
Franken denied the woman’s allegation, but ultimately resigned from Congress on Thursday amid calls for his seat by fellow Democrats.
Although Franken was forced out of office over his alleged indiscretions — some of which he maintains never happened — his case is, unfortunately, the exception and not the rule. A tally of recent public cases involving elected officials at both the state and federal level shows that the number of politicians who have actually faced any consequences for their actions — resignation, expulsion, or legal ramifications — is minuscule overall.
In a handful of cases, the accused have even ridden the allegations against them to victory: President Trump, for instance, faced accusations from a dozen women prior to his election in 2016. U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused by several women who say he approached them or sexually abused them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s, continues to campaign strongly in Alabama. Many polls show Moore within striking distance of winning the special election on December 12.
“There’s no accountability whatsoever,” California Congresswoman Jackie Speier said in October, before introducing legislation that would make the procedure for handling sexual misconduct on the Hill more transparent. “It’s rigged in favor of the institution and the members, and we can’t tolerate that.”
Both Speier and colleague Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) have noted that the total number of sitting lawmakers who have been accused of misconduct may be even higher than anyone realizes. During a hearing in November, they detailed several accounts by unnamed female congressional staffers who had been subjected to inappropriate behavior by legislators, but declined to give those lawmakers’ names or discuss total numbers. (According to some sources, the figure may be as high as 40.)
Unfortunately, it seems not much is being done to root out the problem. Just a handful of men in power, like Franken, have begun to feel the weight of their actions years later.
Former congressman and Mayor of San Diego Bob Filner (D)
Punishment: Pleaded guilty to false imprisonment and battery charges in court
Filner, the former mayor of San Diego and member of the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2012, initally pleaded guilty in 2013 to several charges of false imprisonment and battery after 19 women came forward with sexual harassment allegations against him. In May 2016, the city of San Diego agreed to pay a settlement of $667,000 to one of his accusers, Benelia Santos-Hunter, who said Filner had “grabbed her buttocks, asked to hug and kiss her and tried to touch her breasts”, according to the Los Angeles Times. Since that time, the city has paid out a total of more than $1 million to five of Filner’s accusers.
In May 2016, Filner faced another accusation from a former city Parks Department employee who said Filner had touched her breast and pushed her for a date in 2013. While a San Diego Superior Court jury last year determined that harassment had taken place, they also determined that the woman should not receive damages because, as the Times reported, “the harassment was neither serious nor pervasive.”
In November this year, Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) also claimed in an interview with Meet the Press that Filner had once cornered her in an elevator and tried to kiss her.
“I pushed him away,” she said. ” He couldn’t take action against me, and believe me, I never got in an elevator with him again. …But what concerns me now, and should concern everybody, is what about the young staffers? What about the interns? Was this happening with them too? And I think we have to ask ourselves the question: Is this happening with current members of Congress?”
Filner did not respond to DeGette’s accusation publicly.
New Hampshire state Rep. Eric Schleien (R)
Punishment: Charged with sexual assault
Schleien, a Republican member of New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, was accused in July of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old, who claimed Schleien touched her “through her clothing without her consent during a car ride from Portsmouth”, according to CBS Boston. The teen claimed the incident had occurred one year earlier, in July 2016, and that she had initially met Schleien at a cafe, where they had discussed her interest in politics. Schleien has denied the allegation and is set to face trial in March or April 2018.
Oklahoma state Sen. Bryce Marlatt (R)
Punishment: Charged with sexual battery, resigned
Marlatt, a Republican, was charged with sexual battery in September, after an Uber driver accused him of grabbing her and kissing her neck while she was driving him to his hotel on June 26. According to the driver, who flagged down Oklahoma City police one day after the incident occurred, Marlatt made sexual advances toward her, at one point telling her, “Hey, you got nice tits.”
Marlatt was arrested in September following a criminal investigation and resigned his post six days later.
Vermont state Sen. Norm McAllister (R)
Punishment: Convicted of setting up a sex deal between a female tenant and one of his acquaintances, no jail time
Former Republican state Sen. McAllister managed to escape jail time after being convicted in July of arranging for one of his female tenants to have sex with an acquaintance in exchange for money to pay her electric bill. Jurors acquitted McAllister of two related sexual assault charges.
McAllister, 66, was sentenced to 25 days on a work crew and 12 months probation. He will also be required to “submit to a sex offender assessment”, according to the Burlington Free Press.
Tennessee state Rep. Jeremy Durham (R)
Punishment: Expelled from state House
In September 2016, Durham became the first representative expelled from the state legislature in Tennessee’s history after an investigation by The Tennessean, Nashville’s principal newspaper, and the state attorney general’s office. The latter investigation revealed that, during his time in office, Durham had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with at least 22 women, including lobbyists, staffers, and interns.
At the time, Durham’s attorneys blasted the allegations, stating that they were anonymous and that “nobody ever filed a complaint of sexual harassment.” For their part, many of the women accusing Durham stated that they had not come forward publicly because they feared losing their jobs or damaging their reputations.
During a tense meeting to discuss Durham’s expulsion from the state House on September 13, 2016, the Tennessean reported,
…The embattled lawmaker brandished a folder, threatening to reveal some information. He blasted the allegations and suggested he could reveal details about the 22 women and others in the Attorney General’s investigation, but then abruptly left the chamber before his colleagues voted to oust him.
Durham was officially expelled from the House that afternoon, after he refused to return to the Capitol grounds.
Sam Hoyt, economic development aide for New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D)
Punishment: Resigned, facing lawsuit
In a federal lawsuit filed on November 18, former state DMV employee Lisa Marie Cater accused Sam Hoyt, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) former top economic aide, of sexual harassment. Cater claimed that Hoyt had allegedly texted her repeatedly, once sending her a nude photo of himself with the caption, “Do I look tan?”
Cater also claimed that Hoyt — who, at the time, was working as the head of Empire State Development Corp.’s Buffalo office — had on one occasion grabbed her by the crotch at a local park, squeezing her genitals and whispering, “You know this is what I want!”
Cater claimed she notified Cuomo’s office about the harassment on several occasions, but said the office had ignored her complaints. The state’s chief counsel, Alphonso David, has stated that his office launched three separate investigations into the matter and that “any assertion to the contrary is patently and demonstrably false.” Hoyt’s attorney claimed that Hoyt had “previously acknowledged and expressed regret for a short term, consensual relationship with Ms. Cater” but called her claims “inconsistent”, according to the New York Daily News.
Hoyt resigned his post in October, ahead of Cater’s lawsuit.
A growing number of men have resigned in disgrace
A handful of other state and federal legislators or aides, many of them uncovered by outlets like USA Today and the Tennessean, have resigned their posts over the past year in response to allegations against them. So far, they have not faced legal ramifications for their alleged actions. They include:
- Minnestota state Rep. Tony Cornish (R): Accused of sexually harassing state lobbyist.
- Minnesota state Sen. Dan Schoen (DFL): Accused of sexually harassing three women, allegedly sent one lewd Snapchat photos of his genitalia.
- Duron Marshall, chief of staff for Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI): Accused of sexually harassing or touching three female staffers in Lawrence’s office, prompting them to quit.
- Tennessee state Rep. Mark Lovell (R): Accused of inappropriately touching a woman; details of legislature’s investigation were not released.
- California Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra (D): Accused by at least six women of unwanted sexual advances.
- Illinois state Sen. Ira Silverstein (D): Accused of sexually harassing a victim’s rights advocate, sending unwanted social media messages.
- Oklahoma state Rep. Dan Kirby (R), (Resigned in December 2016): Accused of sexually harassing two former aides, sending explicit text messages, and soliciting topless photos.
- Nevada state Sen. Mark Manendo (D): Accused of at least 14 instances of inappropriate conduct with female staffers and lobbyists.
- Ohio state Sen. Cliff Hite (R): Resigned in October citing “family health reasons”; was later accused of sexual harassment by a female state employee who said Manendo pursued her after she told him to stop.
- Rep. John Conyers (D-MI): The 88-year-old lawmaker has been accused by six former staffers of sexual harassment, charges which he has denied. On Tuesday, Conyers announced that he was retiring and would not seek re-election.
On Thursday evening, Roll Call reported that Arizona Rep. Trent Franks (R) was also expected to resign over unspecified “inappropriate behavior”, according to sources with knowledge. Franks’ office later issued a statement indicating that the matter was related to surrogacy requests he mad to two former staffers, and was not related to any sexual misconduct, although details on the surrogacy discussions were murky.
This article was updated to include more information about Rep. Trent Franks (R) resignation.