Congress needs to be open about ha­rass­ment suits

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker - - OPINION -

This sea­son of dis­clo­sures of sex­ual ha­rass­ment has un­set­tled ma­jor U.S. in­sti­tu­tions and in­dus­tries in­clud­ing en­ter­tain­ment, the news me­dia and govern­ment, es­pe­cially Congress.

Yet, in­cred­i­bly, the Amer­i­can pub­lic has no way to know when a mem­ber of Congress uses the Amer­i­can pub­lic’s money to set­tle one or more ha­rass­ment claims, or how much such set­tle­ments cost.

ABC News re­cently re­ported that at least $17 mil­lion has been paid in set­tle­ments since 1997 from funds known as mem­bers’ rep­re­sen­ta­tional al­lowances. But those pay­outs in­clude all set­tle­ments for work­place dis­putes and the Of­fice of Com­pli­ance, which ad­min­is­ters the pay­outs, does not break down the na­ture of the com­plaints and does not iden­tify the par­ties.

And those funds aren’t the only sources of pub­lic money used as hush money. Money to set­tle a com­plaint against U.S. Rep. John Cony­ers of Michi­gan, for ex­am­ple, was drawn from his of­fice’s op­er­at­ing funds.

To be­gin with, there is no con­vinc­ing ra­tio­nale for mak­ing tax­pay­ers re­spon­si­ble for the per­sonal in­dis­cre­tions of mem­bers of Congress. That’s why Congress should pass a bill, spon­sored by Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic Rep. Jackie Speier, that would make rep­re­sen­ta­tives per­son­ally li­able for ha­rass­ment set­tle­ments.

Mean­while, Congress should in­struct the Of­fice of Com­pli­ance to pro­duce and pub­licly re­lease a break­down of all sex­ual ha­rass­ment set­tle­ments by mem­bers of Congress.

The is­sue is not sim­ply to ac­count for pub­lic money, which is fun­da­men­tal, but to cre­ate de­ter­rence, ad­vise con­stituents of their rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ con­duct and warn em­ploy­ees of their bosses’ records.

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