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Bipartisan Bill Would Stop Congress’ Secret Taxpayer-Funded Harassment Settlements

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by Countable | 11.29.17

What’s the story?

On Wednesday, a group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced a bill that would out lawmakers who settled sexual harassment claims with taxpayer dollars.

Currently, sexual harassment claims against senators or representatives are handled by a process that is unique to other parts of the federal government – and most of the private sector. Accusers can only file lawsuits if they first agree to go through months of counseling and mediation. When settlements do occur, members don’t pay them from their own funds, as required by other federal agencies. Rather, the payments – which remain confidential – come from a special U.S. Treasury fund.

This new bill, cosponsored by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Ron DeSantis (R-FL), and Kathleen Rice (D-NY) would change all that.

The move comes after several members of Congress have been accused of sexual harassment. This includes a report by New York magazine that alleges Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) settled a harassment complaint with taxpayer funds. And earlier in the day, Rep. Rice walked out of the House Democrats’ morning meeting, complaining that the harassment claims against Conyers and Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) weren’t being taken seriously.

"I don’t have time for meetings that aren’t real," Rice told reporters. She’s also called on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) to release Conyers’ accuser from her confidentiality agreement.

Why does it matter?

On Monday, Rep. DeSantis posted a statement explaining why he was working on the bill:

"Since 1995, more than $15 million in taxpayer dollars has been paid out to settle claims, including sexual harassment claims, on behalf of members of Congress and congressional staff. While the amount of money paid is public, everything else is secret. The public doesn’t know which members have been involved in taxpayer-financed settlements for alleged misconduct."

The new bill would:

  • Require the congressional Office of Compliance to publicly disclose on its website all previously made payments.

  • Prohibit nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) as a precondition to address sexual harassment or assault claims.

  • Permit victims to speak publicly about their claim, regardless of any previously signed NDAs.

  • Bar the use of tax dollars to pay harassment claims against members and staff.

  • Require that lawmakers who used the confidential Treasury Department fund reimburse the government, with interest.

The bill would not publicize the names of the victims of the sexual harassment.

Tennessee Reps. Marsha Blackburn, a Republican, and Jim Cooper, a Democrat, joined the three other House members in announcing the bill on Wednesday.

"No more cover-ups," said Cooper. “We need transparency, safety and appropriate behavior. Sexual misconduct has no place here, or anywhere.”

What do you think?

Do you support the new bill? Do you want your reps to support it? Anything else you’d like to see included? Hit Take Action, tell your reps, then share your thoughts below.

— Josh Herman

Related Reading

(Photo Credit: Juanmonino / iStockphoto)

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(102)
  • Katrina
    11/30/2017
    ···

    I believe that our representatives need to be held accountable for sexual misconduct. I was horrified to discover that tax dollars have gone to pay settlements while the guilty party walks away with zero professional or financial consequences. And equally appalling was learning that those committing misconduct were protected by NDAs and other privacy rules that allow their behavior to continue unfettered. What a morally bankrupt system. This bill addresses both of these problems, and I support it. Our government must stop behaving as if it above the law, and it must stop facilitating unethical and predatory behavior.

    Like (16)
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  • Countryfirst
    11/30/2017
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    This shows how morally and ethically CORRUPT the congress is..how has this been going on in our government? This country is in trouble and we have a total LUNATIC in the white house!

    Like (15)
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  • Terry
    11/30/2017
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    Why was a special fund set up with tax payers dollars to pay for illegal immoral unethical acts anyway ? We need an overhaul of 535 people in Congress badly !

    Like (14)
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  • Scott
    11/29/2017
    ···

    You need to vote in a way that does not allow tax dollars to be spent on solving crap behavior from the elected folks in DC. Your vote will tell us all how you think.

    Like (10)
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  • Kyle
    11/29/2017
    ···

    Yes, put this into action. There is absolutely no reason the misconduct of our representatives should be covered up under any circumstance. And paying for this cover up with taxpayer dollars?! How can anyone complain about using tax dollars to support the impoverished yet sit back and allow the money to be used to cover for a perverted congressperson? Representatives and senators should be held to the same standards (if not a higher standard) than their constituents. Do better!

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  • Ernest
    11/30/2017
    ···

    TERM LIMITS- NOW!!!! 1 term for Senators and 2 terms for Congressman. Eligible to run again after leaving for 10 years. And finally- ban the (R) and (D) after their names on the ballot and the straight party vote on the machines. Make the public do their due diligence on the candidates and their positions on the issues!!!

    Like (8)
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  • GatewayJohn
    11/30/2017
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    All sexual harassment settlements should be made public. Non disclosure arrangements should be made illegal.

    Like (7)
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  • Robert
    11/30/2017
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    Any representative that has paid out a settlement for sexual-harassment should be made public, regardless of nondisclosure agreements. The only person who should be protected are the victims.

    Like (7)
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  • Renata
    11/29/2017
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    This is ridiculous. Representatives are supposed to REPRESENT the people, not take advantage of them. If THEIR people have to go through trials for sexual harassment cases then SO SHOULD THEY!!!!!!

    Like (6)
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  • Robert
    11/30/2017
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    When are we going to fire Donald Trump for his sexual harassment????

    Like (6)
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  • Donna
    11/30/2017
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    We need to mark this red-letter day on the calendar. This is the most refreshing, sane and responsible thing to be brought up in Congress in more years than should be acceptable to anyone paying the salaries of our representatives. It is about time the elite group of citizens responsible for crafting the laws that govern our nation realize they are not above any of them. Can I suggest the next issue to be tackled in this bipartisan, grownup manner? Get to work on crafting a bill prohibiting any Administration and staff member from spewing propaganda as the official word of the government we pay them to represent. Spin is spin. Lies are lies. Facts are indisputable. Anyone that cannot recognize the difference should be fired. Think of the money that could be saved to help pay for the obscene tax scam currently being rushed through the Senate before the general public realizes it is nothing but another propaganda campaign meant to disguise the truth, benefit the wealthy and screw the rest of us.

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  • Carrie
    11/30/2017
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    Out them. With no accountability there won’t be any change. They should have to pay the bill for their actions. Not the tax payers.

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  • Mary
    11/30/2017
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    You've got to be kidding is this for real. These sleazy low lifes are using tax payers money? Their names need to be publicized and they should be expelled for life from public service.

    Like (5)
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  • Elizabeth
    11/30/2017
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    Get rid of these archaic rules. And stop using taxpayer $ to buy their silence. Members should use their own $.

    Like (5)
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  • Kelsey
    11/30/2017
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    Please pass this bill. Accountability is a good first step, but we ultimately need to fix a broken system by which victims are expected to report harassment and assault.

    Like (4)
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  • Andrew
    11/30/2017
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    Vote yes. This is a must. Tax payers should not foot the bill for bad behavior of members of Congress.

    Like (4)
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  • RadicalModerate
    11/30/2017
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    The public deserves to know the names of every one who spent tax dollars on hiding their predatory nature. The type of person who runs for and holds public office is usually sociopathic, narcissistic, and vain. If transparency were the rule rather than the exception, we would find government offices and corporate board rooms to be as dangerous to women as dark alleys and frat house parties.

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  • Phil
    11/29/2017
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    It would take a special kind of stupid to vote against this bill. Might as well wear a sign that says "I support sexual predators" if you did.

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  • Ann
    11/30/2017
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    Maybe any Congressman who votes against this should be regarded with suspicion.

    Like (2)
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  • Lori
    11/30/2017
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    There should be NO SECRETS in congress relating to sexual harassment allegations. It’s time to air it out!! #metoo

    Like (2)
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