ALBANY, N.Y. -- Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin is the latest state lawmaker to face accusations of sexual harassment, sanctioned on Wednesday by Speaker Carl Heastie after he was accused of asking a legislative aide for nude photos, lying about it and leaking her name.
"I didn't do that. I never revealed a thing," McLaughlin said. "They have no proof that I did, because I did not. It appears to be a political hit."
The findings were endorsed by the bipartisan Assembly Ethics Committee -- four Democrats and four Republicans. McLaughlin says the panel is really controlled by Democrats, and that he was targeted for being an outspoken Republican.
"Who's been the most vocal person in the Assembly for the past seven years? That's me," McLaughlin said. "Who's stood up for their constituents like nobody else? Me."
The accusation dates back to 2016. At the time, the ethics committee recommended sensitivity training for McLaughlin and ultimately sent him a letter in June of this year saying there was no finding of a violation but warning him against any retaliation.
"So we prove my innocence and then they go back and take another bite at the apple and say 'we couldn't nail them on sexual harassment, so let's get them on something else,' " McLaughlin said.
This month, the committee determined McLaughlin had lied in his denial of the allegations and that he released the name of the woman -- a move the committee fears could lead other people to not come forward with allegations of their own. McLaughlin is the eighth lawmaker from both parties in the last 11 years to be accused of sexual harassment or misconduct in the Assembly.
"I'd like to think we are making strides ahead and ... It was a strong bipartisan statement," said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy.
In the last five years, the Assembly has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside investigators to review harassment claims.
"We are trying to send a message, and you're seeing the media send that message as well, and it's that harassment and hostile work environments will not be tolerated," Fahy said.
McLaughlin will take office as Rensselaer County executive in January. But he's complained through a lawyer to Albany County District Attorney David Soares over how his case was handled.
According to Heastie's office, the sanctions specifically include:
- A letter of admonition be issued publicly to Assemblymember McLaughlin by the Speaker on behalf of the entire Assembly, enumerating the findings of the Committee and stating that Assemblymember McLaughlin's conduct violated the Assembly's Policy Prohibiting Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation as it pertains to sexual harassment and confidentiality, and is consistent with the standards of conduct to which Members of the Assembly should be held;
- Assemblymember McLaughlin be directed to cease revealing the name of the complainant and details of the allegations and investigation;
- Assemblymember McLaughlin be precluded from having any interns working in his Assembly or district office, and that the prohibition applies to interns assigned by the Assembly as well as any interns that might be engaged through unofficial channels; and
- Assemblymember McLaughlin be required to reimburse the Assembly for the cost of the comprehensive supplemental sexual harassment and retaliation prevention training he took in July 2017.