I’ll take “Things that should never have been legal in the first place for $500,” Alex.
A bipartisan group of Congressional members has filed a bill, titled “The Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act,” to kill off the hush fund that was used to pay off millions of dollars in sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, and to unveil the names of lawmakers and congressional staffers whose bad deeds were behind the claims.
As Andrea noted yesterday, Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said that he was supporting the bill to bring transparency to the more than $15 million in claims that have been paid out since 1995.
“What does it say about the sincerity of Congress in combatting harassment when members and staff can have taxpayers cover for their misconduct while keeping it all secret?” asked DeSantis in a statement on his website after the bill was filed.
“Members of Congress and staff cannot live under special rules,” he continued. “The current system incentivizes misconduct and makes it difficult for victims. By exposing these secret settlements and by discontinuing using tax dollars to pay for member misconduct, this bill will reduce the incentive for bad behavior and bring more accountability to Congress.”
Added Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), another co-sponsor: “The use of taxpayer funds and forced non-disclosure agreements to silence victims of sexual harassment is disgusting, and I am grateful to be able to join my colleagues in introducing legislation to stop this practice. It is time to restore respect in the congressional workplace, and shame on us if we don’t make this change.”
In addition to requiring the disclosure of all past taxpayer funded settlement payments — including the reasons for the payments and the identities of the members of Congress and staffers implicated — the bill will also prohibit taxpayer funds being used in future sexual harassment and sexual assault claims, require all past sexual harassment or sexual assault settlements to be paid back (with interest) by the person named at fault, and allow victims to speak about their claims regardless of any nondisclosure agreement they may have signed.
Again, let’s emphasize what this bill seeks to correct: under the current system, if you work for Congress and are sexually harassed or sexually assaulted by a member or staffer, the only procedure by which you can seek any relief requires you to give up most of your rights, keeps the wrongdoer’s identity secret, prohibits you from speaking publicly, hides the details from the taxpayers, and even allows the members to disguise the payouts as part of their regular operating budget.
In addition to DeSantis and Blackburn, the bill’s original co-sponsors include Representatives Jack Bergman (R-MI), Dave Brat (R-VA), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), Jim Cooper (D-TN), John Delaney (D-MD), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), Jody Hice (R-GA), Mike Johnson (R-LA), Walter Jones (R-NC), Dave Loebsack (D-IA), Luke Messer (R-IN), Seth Moulton (D-MA), Gary Palmer (R-AL), Steve Pearce (R-NM), Kathleen Rice (D-NY), Todd Rokita (R-IN), Francis Rooney (R-FL), Thomas Rooney (R-FL), and Brad Schneider (D-IL).
Pay attention to this list and see who is willing to add their name.
Here’s my theory: those are the lawmakers who are completely sure they have nothing to fear from these secret settlements being revealed. Politicians have more than their fair share of arrogance, but it would take an insane level of chutzpah to put your name on this bill if you knew you would be exposed if it passed. (And even if it doesn’t pass, publicly supporting such a bill is still daring anyone who knows the skeletons in your closet to start talking.)
I would suggest it would be an enlightening experience for everyone to contact their own Congressional representatives and ask if they will be supporting this bill.
And perhaps the Washington press corps, instead of their tiresome game of demanding that Republicans “respond” to whatever nonsense the President just tweeted, start asking for a response to this bill instead.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.