A watchdog group is demanding a list of lawmakers who may have made use of a multi-million dollar taxpayer “slush fund” (“hush-fund”) that has been used to pay off and silence victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault on Capitol Hill.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a watchdog that is based in Washington, D.C.-, said that the settlement list from the Office of Compliance (OOC), which totals around $17 million in payments over the last 20 years, should be released for transparency purposes and to hold the public officials accountable for their actions.
“Sadly, it has just come to light that for years the government spent millions in taxpayer dollars to try and quietly make sexual misconduct by lawmakers go away. That is an egregious affront to all the victims, as well as taxpayers,” said Kendra Arnold, the executive director of FACT. “We don’t need speeches and public posturing—we need the internal policy to change and immediate transparency. Congressional leaders need to name names and each day that goes by without action is another day more innocent people are put at risk of becoming victims of predatory behavior in the workplace.”
Arnold further said that the Congress’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is even more of an important reason that the settlement list should be released to the public. The $17 million taxpayer-funded settlement fund, which is also referred to as a “slush fund” by its critics, has garnered wide attention following a string of sexual harassment allegations in Hollywood, the media, and in Congress.
Some lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling for an end to the fund, which also covers up workplace settlements on a range of issues that may stem beyond sexual harassment complaints and includes the likes of discrimination as well.
Representative Jackie Speier, one such critic of the fund and a longtime proponent of reforming the harassment policies on Capitol Hill, and said that it is now up to Congress to implement real reforms.
“Make no mistake that the fault of the current complaint process lies within the Congress, which authored and passed this deeply flawed legislation that had established the Office of Compliance and its burdensome complaint process,” Speier told a news source. “It is our responsibility to fix this law and do better for our employees.”
Speier has said that she knows of one such Democrat and one Republican who are currently in Congress and linked to the sexual harassment allegations. The California lawmaker, who has referred to the Office of Compliance as an “enabler” of such shameful conduct, has introduced a bill to reform the office. A number of politicians from both the political parties have joined Speier in pushing for this new reform.
Sexual misconduct settlements do not always come out of the “slush fund.”
Representative John Conyers, who has now been accused of sexual misconduct by at least three former staffers, had settled with one woman from the funds allocated to his congressional office. The settlement is not included in the $17 million fund.
Conyers, who is a ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, has since stepped down from that position as an ethics probe into the longtime lawmaker continues to progress further.
Senator Al Franken has also been accused by four women of sexual harassment and has since issued a number of apologies. Franken has said that he is “embarrassed and ashamed” of these accusations.