Americans are being deluged with information about men accused of sexual harassment or assault. Since shocking revelations emerged about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein in October, the Los Angeles Times notes, “a powerful person has been accused of misconduct at a rate of nearly once every 20 hours” — including such big names as Dustin Hoffman, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor. No doubt more will follow.
But we can’t help noticing that some names are missing. Those would be members of Congress who have settled complaints from staffers or others who alleged mistreatment, including sexual harassment and discrimination — but have managed to keep it on the down low.
Some alleged offenders, fortunately, have been exposed: Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., and Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich.; Blake Farenthold, R-Texas; and Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev. The public reaction has been negative enough to persuade each to take his leave. Franken and Conyers resigned; Farenthold and Kihuen will depart at the end of this term.
But other bad behavior has so far been kept under wraps. Since 2014, Congress’ Office of Compliance has reported, $174,000 has been paid out by House offices, in addition to $84,000 paid in the Farenthold case. Some $600,000 has been disbursed for claims of workplace misconduct in the offices of senators, including $14,260 for one involving sex discrimination.
There’s more. Conyers paid $27,000 to a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment, but the money came out of his House office budget. That approach has the advantage of not requiring approval from the compliance office.
Over the past two decades, we learn, the compliance office has paid more than $17 million to resolve employment disputes on Capitol Hill, involving a wide range of matters. Who covered that expense? You did. All the settlement payments were made with public funds.
But the information about who did what is hidden from public view. That’s outrageous. If members of Congress are going to stick taxpayers with the bill for their abuses, taxpayers ought to be able to identify the guilty parties.
Some members agree. Several senators have called on Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., to release more information. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has introduced a bill that, in the future, would generally mandate disclosure of the names of members of Congress who enter such settlements and require members to reimburse the Treasury for the payments.
The legislation has attracted 20 sponsors, including Ted Cruz, R-Texas; Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. No one seems eager to defend concealing such information from the voters. “I think the public needs to know how their money is being spent,” said the No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas. There is similar sentiment in the House. President Donald Trump favors disclosure.
But it’s not sufficient only to abandon such secrecy going forward; it's also important to reveal what's happened before. Even if lawmakers are willing to make transparency the new policy, Politico reported in November, “there’s strong, albeit quiet, resistance on Capitol Hill to disclosing the names of members who've reached settlements in the past.”
Sorry, that won’t do. The public has a right to know. Some members have settled workplace complaints at taxpayer expense.
Here’s your duty, Congress: Name them.