MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When accusations of sexual misconduct surfaced against Minnesota Senator Al Franken, his colleagues immediately called for an investigation by the Ethics Committee.
Franken says he’ll cooperate fully with an Ethics Committee investigation, but what does that mean?
Minnesota Democrat Al Franken is the first senator in 25 years to face the Ethics Committee on sexual harassment claims, and told WCCO’s Esme Murphy he won’t step down.
“We have an ethics process that I agreed to cooperate with completely,” he said. “I want to be accountable to that process.”
The six-member, bipartisan Ethics Committee is a place women can go to privately make harassment claims, but some critics say it’s “a black hole where allegations go to die.”
The Ethics Committee is shrouded in secrecy — it rarely holds public hearings, the allegations are confidential and committee findings are usually private.
What’s more — the apparent outcomes of Ethics Committee investigations appear to favor Senators. Last year, the Ethics Committee reviewed 63 unspecified misconduct allegations, five of whic resulted in preliminary investigations. Not a single accusation led to discipline.
In the past 10 years, there were 676 allegations, 68 preliminary inquiries and still no sanctions. Discipline is not unheard of, but rare.
The Ethics Committee voted in 1995 to expel Oregon Republican Bob Packwood for sexual harassment. He resigned instead. Utah Republican Larry Craig quit ahead of ethics charges after a Minnesota men’s room arrest.
Franken is asking the committee to investigate all the harassment claims against him, including allegations before he took office.
“It happened so fast. He just mashed his lips against my face and he stuck his tongue in my mouth so fast,” radio anchor Leeann Tweeden said of a 2006 incident on a USO tour with Franken.
Investigating a Pre-Senate allegation is unusual, but it’s happened before. Louisiana Republican David Vitter reportedly visited prostitutes, but the Ethics Committee decided not to do anything about it because it happened before he was a senator.
The last time the U.S. Senate publicly censured one of its members was in 1990 against Minnesota Republican Senator David Durenberger for improper ethical conduct.