On Tuesday, a petition was posted to the White House “We the People” website that demands a full accounting of all the settlements made in sexual assault and harassment cases involving members of Congress like Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who reportedly paid one accuser over $27,000 in taxpayer money.
The short petition, which can be seen here, simply reads:
According to reports, there has been 17 million spent on 260 claims over the past 20 years on settlements of sexual assault accusations from Capitol Hill. The government has no money, it is our money. We demand a (sic) itemized list of the complaints that went into these settlements including the names of the accused, while protecting the apparent victims’ identities. This is made with acknowledgement that in certain cases, a settlement may have been the way to go even to false claims, however, these people work for us, not the other way around, and it is our money funding both the settlements and their salaries.
The person who created the petition, identified only as “E.S.,” isn’t alone in demanding that details be made known to the public.
On Friday, Newsweek said that Christopher Shays — a former GOP Representative for Connecticut, is also demanding details.
“If the taxpayers are basically being charged for the activities of someone, a staff person or a member of congress, it should be made available to the public. That would be the spirit of the very law that the Republicans passed in 1994,” he said.
Shays called for the Office of Compliance, a watchdog created by the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act that he sponsored, to make its settlement decisions public and name who it is making payouts for with taxpayer’s money—just like the courts. The original law was drafted to cover all labor practice complaints.
“The decisions that are made by the office of compliance, in my judgement should be public,” said Shays, who served 14 years as a lawmaker before losing his seat in 2009. “Congress needs to live by the basic same laws that the public lives by, and the Office of Compliance needs to do everything it can to mirror that.”
Accusations of sexual misconduct are flying around congress after several congresswomen came forward to share their stories last month. After questions from members of congress and the media, on Thursday the Office of Compliance (OOC) revealed it has paid out nearly $1 million of taxpayers’ money in eight workplace settlements in 2017 to date. That is the highest annual amount to be issued from the special congressional U.S. Treasury fund that foots the bill in a decade.
A blog at The Hill by Jenny Beth Martin also demands answers:
The “resolution” system is unfairly rigged to protect the careers of politicians, not to protect vulnerable staffers. That the counseling sessions are mandatory reveals that the objective has little to do with helping the alleged victim, but is instead simply aimed at dissuading the alleged victim from proceeding with a complaint. Leave it to Congress to find a way to insert layers of bureaucracy and paperwork into this “resolution” process.
Various proposals are floating around the Congress now that would require mandatory sexual harassment training for members of Congress and their staffs. That’s a fine idea, and I’m all for it. But those legislative proposals should make another change to the sexual harassment dispute resolution mechanism, too.
We, the taxpayers who have been paying for more than two decades to quietly settle literally hundreds of sexual harassment claims against members of Congress and their staffs, have a right to know which members and staffers have made use of the hush money over the years. Going forward, taxpayers should have knowledge about how that fund is used.
“If Congress wants to get serious about its apparent culture of abuse, it will need to address its cover-up culture. Shush funds may serve the immediate purpose of getting alleged victims to go away, but they do little to stem the tide of sexual harassment. What Congress needs — and American taxpayers deserve — is more transparency,” Martin added.
As of this writing, the petition needs 99,998 signatures by December 21 to reach the threshold required for action by the White House.
Again, that petition can be seen here.
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