A government watchdog group on Tuesday called for the disclosure of all Members of Congress who are tied to a taxpayer-funded multi-million dollar "slush fund" that includes payments to settle sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT), a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog, said the settlement list from the Office of Compliance (OOC), which totals $17 million in payments over the last 20 years, should be released for transparency purposes and to hold public officials accountable for their actions.
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"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 said that Congress's exemption from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is even more reason the settlement list should be released to the public. The $17 million taxpayer-funded settlement fund, which is referred to as a "slush fund" by 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 workplace settlements on a range of issues that stem beyond sexual harassment complaints and includes the likes of discrimination.
Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Calif.), one such critic of the fund and a longtime proponent of reforming harassment policies on Capitol Hill, said it is now up to Congress to implement real reform.
"Make no mistake that the fault of the current complaint process lies within Congress, which authored and passed this deeply flawed legislation that established the Office of Compliance and its burdensome complaint process," Speier told Politico. "It is our responsibility to fix this law and do better for our employees."
Speier has said that she knows of one Democrat and one Republican who are currently in Congress who are linked to sexual harassment allegations. The California lawmaker, who has referred to the Office of Compliance as an "enabler" of such conduct, has introduced a bill to reform the office. A number of politicians from both political parties have joined Speier in pushing for reform.
Sexual misconduct settlements do not always come out of the "slush fund."
Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.), who has now been accused of sexual misconduct by three former staffers, settled with one woman from the funds allocated to his congressional office. The settlement is not included in the $17 million fund.