As Sexual Harassment Claims Become Exposed, Congress Tries to Pick Up the Pieces

As the latest round of sexual harassment allegations has focused less on the creative/media sector and set its sights on Capitol Hill, Congress is scrambling to update policies that tend to cloak our elected public servants in shadows of anonymity and privacy.

From former Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota and former Rep. John Conyers, to conservatives like Roy Moore and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas), the atmosphere in the nation’s most important chambers seems more like a fraternity house than halls of legislation. So why haven’t we heard of these sordid accounts until now The short answer is that we have been paying to keep these acts a secret, from ourselves.

After The Washington Post confirmed on Friday that Farenthold used a little known Treasury fund that is overseen by the congressional Office of Compliance to pay an $84,000 settlement with a former aide that sued him for sexual harassment in November 2014, more information is coming to light about taxpayer money being used in settlements like Farenthold’s. According to Politico, the Office of Compliance has paid out $17 million in taxpayer money to settle 264 claims over the past 20 years.

This secret fund is not the sole method in which we the people have been stuck with the legal bills of our representatives. Conyers used his own office budget to settle his lawsuits. Conyers, 88, announced his resignation — which he emphasized is a retirement — earlier this week. He was the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives and a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

We don’t know how often this method is employed as it is difficult to track.

As Congress has tried to put a Band-Aid on this black mark, Sen. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) alluded to a moral responsibility: “I believe that Congress should be not the gold standard but the platinum standard. We should be a beacon on a hill to say that sexual harassment or harassment of any kind is not acceptable in the workplace anywhere.”

The Ethics Committee, led by Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), put in a request to the Office of Compliance last Friday for records of any hearings or discussion pertaining to this matter. According to The Post, it is uncertain if Brooks and Deutch will make the records available to the public “or use the information to investigate lawmakers who have been accused of misconduct.”

The committee claims and promises it will review the matter.

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