Democrats push Boy Scouts for more info on lobbying against stricter sexual abuse laws

Democrats push Boy Scouts for more info on lobbying against stricter sexual abuse laws
© Camille Fine

Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierEpstein death sparks questions for federal government Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess Democrats see window closing for impeachment MORE (D-Calif.) is pressing the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) for more information about the organization's lobbying efforts against legislation to extend statutes of limitations for alleged sexual misconduct.

Speier, who has been pushing for more information from the group for months, signaled she wanted more answers following the group's latest letter sent Monday that promised to provide information on its lobbying practices by June 17.

“We’ll have a better idea of whether there’s still kind of an inclination within BSA’s leadership to evade the issues and the questions,” a spokesperson for Speier’s office told The Hill. “We’re certainly hoping for a transparent, thorough answer from them but that remains to be seen.”

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In the Monday letter, the BSA's chief scout executive Michael Surbaugh said that the organization had engaged with lobbyists “to educate state officials on its youth protection and training programs and to provide the organization’s perspective on proposed reforms to state laws governing claims of sexual abuse,” according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill.

Surbaugh said the lobbyists were in several states between January 2017 and December 2018, but he didn’t give any more detailed information about what the lobbyists advocated for on the organization's behalf. He said that the BSA is reviewing past lobbying practices and will have more information by June 17.

“At this point, we’re intending on waiting until we get their full response assuming we do get it in a timely manner,” the Speier spokesperson aded.

BSA’s National Executive Committee (“NEC”) has retained Covington & Burling LLP as outside counsel, Surbaugh told Speier in a May 28 letter.

The firm will assist NEC in reviewing available information concerning past and present BSA practices regarding sexual abuse so they can respond to Congress.

Speier and 11 Democrats had sent a letter earlier in May asking the group to “clarify the extent to which BSA has directly or indirectly engaged in lobbying efforts, including retaining or compensating lobbyists, to advocate against legislation to extend statutes of limitations and ‘lookback’ windows, or other legislation to expand protections for victims and mechanisms to pursue justice."

The Democrats began requesting information from BSA in response to reports that 12,254 young scouts were allegedly abused by 7,819 leaders from 1944 to 2016.

Surbaugh has admitted that some individuals in the past were allowed to return to the Scouts after credible allegations of sexual abuse.

In his letter sent to Speier in late May, he acknowledged that a previous letter that denied such action was "incorrect."

“I have reviewed information that now makes clear to me that decades ago BSA did, in at least some instances, allow individuals to return to Scouting even after credible accusations of sexual abuse,” he wrote in the May 28 letter, after Speier and 11 Democrats requested information.

The Associated Press recently asked BSA about allowing a leader to return to work with children after allegations, and the organization admitted that “there were moments in our organization’s history when certain cases were not handled the way they would be addressed today.”

Speier and other lawmakers have been pressing the group for information since November, with the California congresswoman and other Democrats writing to Surbaugh and other officials to ask about reports BSA was “advocating against efforts to reduce barriers for victims of child sexual abuse to report decades old abuse.”

“As an organization whose top priority is protecting our youth members, we ardently support legislative measures that would reform statutes of limitation and would emphatically support reform of civil statutes of limitation for individual abusers and against organizations that intentionally concealed wrongdoing,” Surbaugh responded in a letter Dec. 13.

The BSA said in their letter this week that they are going to formally announce in the coming days a new youth protection education initiative.

“Through animated lessons and age-appropriate learning materials developed specifically for younger audiences, the ‘Protect Yourself Rules’ program will educate children on recognizing inappropriate conduct…,” Surbaugh wrote.

He also described a multi-layer screening process for all applicants 18 years or older, which has recently been enhanced, and said BSA has recently expanded its background check policy.

“I think we want to make sure that any reforms that BSA undertakes don’t just look good on paper,” Speier’s spokesperson told The Hill. “One of the big questions, moving forward, is can we trust an organization that has, for decades, worked hard to conceal the scope of a massive sexual abuse problem from both the American people and the U.S. Congress to faithfully execute and enforce child safety policies and sort of facilitate a complete cultural shift in how they address allegations of abuse?”