Mike Coffman donates campaign cash from GOP colleague who settled sexual harassment complaint

Author: Ernest Luning - January 25, 2018 - Updated: January 26, 2018

In this March 20, 2013, file photo, Rep. Patrick Meehan, a Pennsylvania Republican, speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. House Speaker Paul Ryan ordered an Ethics Committee investigation Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, after the New York Times reported that Meehan used taxpayer money to settle a complaint that stemmed from his hostility toward a former aide who rejected his romantic overtures. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

A Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman on Wednesday called on the Aurora Republican to unload $10,000 in campaign contributions from a fellow GOP lawmaker under fire for settling a former aide’s sexual harassment complaint with taxpayer money — but a Coffman spokesman said he’d already donated the funds earlier in the day to a local nonprofit that works to “empower young women.”

Jason Crow, one of four Democrats running in a primary in Colorado’s battleground 6th Congressional District, issued a strongly worded statement Wednesday afternoon saying he wanted Coffman to denounce U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan and donate contributions received over the past two election cycles from the Pennsylvania Republican and his political action committee.

Too late, Coffman campaign manager Tyler Sandberg told Colorado Politics after the Crow campaign announced its demands. “The money has already been donated,” Sandberg said. “It’s being given to Girls Inc. of Metro Denver.”

An unnamed former Meehan aide filed a complaint last summer after the four-term congressman, who is married and a member of the House Ethics Committee, reacted with hostility toward her after she didn’t reciprocate his romantic interest, The New York Times reported Saturday. The same day, House Speaker Paul Ryan pulled Meehan off the ethics panel and called for an investigation into the report Meehan had used taxpayer funds to settle the complaint.

Meehan, 62, said Tuesday he plans to run for re-election and admitted he had felt affection toward the much-younger woman but denied he harassed or pursued her. In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer, Meehan said he told the woman he considered her a “soul mate” and hugged — “maybe longer that night than needed to be” — after taking her out for ice cream.

Coffman, a five-term incumbent, reported receiving $4,000 in contributions from Meehan’s campaign and his leadership PAC, Patriots Leading a Majority, in 2014, and another $6,000 in 2016.

Sandberg said the campaign decided to turn the funds over to the local charity after Meehan spoke publicly with the Inquirer the day before, demonstrating inappropriate behavior that didn’t treat his office or his employee with respect.

“Mike has been a leader on sexual harassment reform, from passing historic reforms in the military to protect women who serve, to co-sponsoring the STOP Act last year to ban the practice of letting members of Congress use taxpayer dollars to pay for sexual harassment settlements against them,” Sandberg said. “He donated Meehan’s previous contributions to a local nonprofit focused on helping empower young women, and will continue working to empower women in all workplaces.”

“In this watershed moment for women and our nation, we need leaders willing to do the right thing, condemn this behavior, and reform the system,” Crow said in his statement, calling Meehan’s admitted behavior “unbefitting of a member of Congress and inexcusable.”

After calling on Coffman to donate the contributions to charity and denounce his donor’s behavior, Crow added, “I’ve called for greater accountability in Congress and for members to be held to the same standards as our service members. It’s time for Mike Coffman to step up and do right by the many women and men coming forward to share their stories.”

In December, Coffman signed on as co-sponsor to legislation that wold ban federal lawmakers from using taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims. dubbed the Stop Taxpayer Obligations to Perpetrators of Sexual Harassment Act.

“I find it unconscionable that taxpayer dollars have been spent to settle sexual harassment cases on behalf of members of Congress,” Coffman said at the time in a statement. “As public servants, entrusted with taxpayer dollars, this is simply unacceptable.”

It’s become almost a ritual in recent years for politicians to demand their opponents return “tainted” campaign contributions when scandals come to light. Last year, as a wave of sexual misconduct allegations shook the political, entertainment and news industries, leading Democrats rushed to rid themselves of donations they’d taken over the years from Hollywood luminaries.

Nearly three years ago, Coffman donated $20,000 his campaign had taken over several cycles from disgraced former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock’s political action committee before the Illinois Republican resigned when his lavish spending of taxpayer dollars came to light, including redecorating his congressional office in the posh style of the BBC show “Downton Abbey.”

Before Coffman announced he’d donated the contributions, a spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party blasted Coffman for accepting “shady campaign cash” from Schock, while left-leaning ProgressNow Colorado demanded Coffman give up Schock’s “dirty money” when a liberal news site reported Coffman hadn’t responded to inquiries about the funds.

Coffman donated the money to a veterans organization earlier, after Schock resigned, Sandberg told Colorado Politics at the time, saying the campaign hadn’t felt “a need to trumpet the donation.” He added, “Sorry to upset the left-wing attack machine so desperate to find a flaw with Mike Coffman.”

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. For nearly a decade, he was a senior political reporter and occasional editor at The Colorado Statesman before the 119-year-old publication merged with Colorado Politics in 2017.