GOP Rep.: Taxes Shouldn’t Pay For Congress’ Harassment Settlements

Bill Clark/CQPHO

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) on Wednesday said he would support a bill that required members of Congress pay their own settlements, rather than having them paid by the U.S. Treasury, which is currently the law.

In an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Lance said “I think that all of that should be made public moving forward, and I believe transparency is the best way to proceed regarding these matters.”

“I was not even aware of this,” he said, referring to taxpayer-funded settlements.

The issue gained traction when several members of Congress spoke about their own experiences with workplace sexual harassment, and after the Washington Post reported on a “a special U.S. Treasury fund” that pays out settlements in legislative branch disputes — including claims of sexual harassment — after an arduous process of counseling and mediation.

That process, laid out in the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, has come under fire in recent weeks for its lack of transparency and tax-funded settlement system. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) is leading an effort to address criticisms of that law with the Member and Employee Training and Oversight On Congress Act — the “ME TOO” Act — which, among other things, requires personal liability for members of Congress who reach settlements covered by the 1995 law.

Lance, a member of the House Ethics Committee, told Cuomo Wednesday that “yes,” he would support legislation to make members of Congress liable for their own settlements.

The Office of Compliance, which was established to handle the workplace dispute and settlement process mandated by the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA), last week released a breakdown of total settlement amounts by year since 1997: More than $17 million over two decades.

Executive Director Susan Tsui Grundmann noted in an accompanying statement that a “large portion” of the cases handled by her office “originate from employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate,” and many involve statutory provisions in the CAA other than those that deal directly with sexual assault — the Fair Labor Standards Act, for example, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously assistant editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at mshuham@talkingpointsmemo.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.

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