American taxpayers are on the hook whenever members of Congress pay accusers to settle claims of sexual harassment. But now, at least two North Carolina representatives want that to stop.
Republicans Walter Jones and Robert Pittenger have signed onto a bill with about two dozen other lawmakers that would put an end to what the bill derisively calls a “hush fund” for elected officials who want to keep the allegations against them secret.
“American taxpayers’ hard-earned money should not be used to pay sexual harassment settlements involving members of Congress,” Jones said in a press release. “Those funds should come out of the members’ pocket, not the taxpayers.’”
Since 1997, members of Congress have spent more than $17 million paying to settle workplace issues.
That money has been used for sexual harassment claims as well as complaints about issues like racial and gender discrimination, according to Politico. This new bill would stop only the payments about sexual accusations.
In addition to stopping the use of taxpayer money for settlements involving claims of sexual harassment or assault by elected officials, the bill would also force the disclosure of the names of politicians who have benefited from these payments in the past – and require them to repay that money to the government, with interest.
The names of the victims would remain secret, although the bill would make retroactive changes to allow them to come forward publicly if they want to, even if they previously signed a nondisclosure agreement.
Currently, politicians’ accusers have to sign nondisclosure agreements even to start the process of asking for a settlement, and the bill would put a stop to that as well.
The fund that has paid out those $17 million in settlements wasn’t a secret, but it wasn’t particularly well-known either. That changed this month with the news that Michigan Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving Democrat in the House of Representatives, has been accused of sexually harassing multiple staffers.
Ironically, the settlement that went public and put Conyers in the news wasn’t paid for by this fund, but rather by his own office.
Doran: 919-836-2858; Twitter: @will_doran