Lawsuit: Political donors paid settlement for former speaker

Published 6:55 pm Monday, December 4, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky’s former GOP House speaker had a consensual sexual relationship with a woman in his office and used money from political donors to pay for her silence, according to a lawsuit filed Monday by a Republican aide.

Daisy Olivo, the spokeswoman for Kentucky’s House Republicans, says in the lawsuit that Jeff Hoover had “physical, sexual encounters” with a woman in the GOP communications office “both during work hours, and outside of work hours.” She says Hoover and three other Republican lawmakers paid the woman a settlement “with private funds pooled from prominent campaign donors” in an attempt to keep it private.

Olivo said she confronted Hoover about the relationship and reported it to his chief of staff, as well as the attorney and human resources director for the Legislative Research Commission. Their response, she said, was to strip her of her job responsibilities and intimidate her.

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In a news release, Hoover said the allegations are “absolutely not true.”

“I have never engaged in sexual contact of any kind with any staff member during my 21 years in Frankfort,” Hoover said. “I will no longer sit back and let untrue, false, defamatory statements be made against me and others.”

The Courier Journal revealed the sexual harassment settlement last month. Hoover then resigned as House speaker after acknowledging he paid to settle the claim. He denied the harassment, but said he was guilty of sending inappropriate but consensual text messages to the woman. He remains in the state legislature.

State officials have confirmed taxpayers did not pay the settlement. House Republican leaders hired a law firm to find out who did. Their investigation , released last week, was inconclusive.

Hoover and others provided documents showing they took out loans from banks and family members to pay the settlement, but the amounts were redacted. They also refused to disclose a copy of the settlement, so investigators could not confirm if the documents matched the settlement agreement.

Acting House Speaker David Osborne has asked the Legislative Ethics Commission to use its subpoena power to obtain a copy of the settlement and determine if any part of it was paid for by political donors or lobbyists, which could be a violation of state ethics law.

“I have confirmed with our attorneys this morning that some of the information contained within the (lawsuit) was not disclosed to them during their investigation,” Osborne said in a news release that was sent to reporters by Olivo. “I’m disgusted by this entire mess and want to reassure Kentucky taxpayers that we remain committed to our actual work.”

The scandal comes at a time when the country is grappling with multiple instances of sexual misconduct in the workplace, including high-profile cases that have toppled powerful men in politics, entertainment and media. And it also has caused a rift among Kentucky Republicans, who are in their first year of full control of state government after decades of dominance by Democrats.

Republican Gov. Matt Bevin asked the state Republican Party on Saturday to call for the resignation of Hoover and the other three lawmakers who paid to settle the sexual harassment claim, but party leaders refused . Bevin called it “not a proud day for the Republican Party.”

On Monday, Republican Rep. Wesley Morgan filed a resolution to expel Hoover from the legislature. The resolution would need at least 60 out of 100 votes to pass. Republicans have a 64-36 majority.

The lawsuit says Olivo reprimanded the woman — who wasn’t identified — several times “for, then, consensual, but inappropriate conduct with Rep. Hoover.” It adds that Olivo reported the relationship to Hoover’s chief of staff, Ginger Wills. But Olivo says Wills viewed the woman as the aggressor in the relationship and said she had “forced the Speaker into a ‘submissive’ relationship, which was damaging Rep. Hoover’s ability to do his job.”

Olivo said Wills planned to fire the woman, but Olivo objected because the relationship was consensual.

Wills did not respond to an email seeking comment.