Millions of Americans have been repulsed by the reports of members of Congress engaged in sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. This behavior is reprehensible in anyone, but in the case of someone who openly courts the public trust, it is especially egregious. But almost as egregious as the behavior itself is the use of taxpayers’ money to settle claims. These settlements should be publicly disclosed and then stopped. Misbehaving members who settle these suits should be required to do so with their own cash, not ours.
It is not enough simply to demand resignations when the circumstances merit it. Congress needs to act to prevent these situations from continuing. The last thing that Congress should do is to facilitate these payoffs by using our money to settle these claims, thereby avoiding the cost of accepting responsibility.
There may be as many as a dozen of these payoffs, two of which have recently surfaced: Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., who resigned, and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who announced his retirement and is currently under a House Ethics Committee investigation.
To raise public awareness of this misuse of taxpayer dollars, Let Freedom Ring initiated a project called “No Taxes for Hush Money.” We believe that congressional constituents should encourage their members of Congress to support legislation to expose this offensive, morally repugnant, and fiscally irresponsible practice.
One legislative initiative we support in this effort is H.R. 4494, the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act. This is bipartisan legislation that has been introduced by Reps. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., and Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y.
Upon introduction of the bill, DeSantis described it as bringing “transparency to the process for harassment claims paid out under the Congressional Accountability Act and prohibiting taxpayer dollars from being used to pay future sexual harassment or sexual assault claims.”
The bill would do five important things:
•Require disclosure of all settlement payments funded by taxpayers.
•Prohibit the future use of taxpayer dollars to pay sexual harassment and sexual assault claims against members of Congress and staff.
•Prohibit members of Congress from using office budgets to camouflage settlement payments.
•Require members of Congress and staff that have had a sexual harassment or sexual assault settlement paid for by taxpayers to reimburse the U.S. Treasury with interest.
•Permit any individual who received a settlement to make public statements about the incident, notwithstanding the terms of a nondisclosure agreement, and prohibit nondisclosure agreements as a condition of any future settlements.
This bill has been referred to the House Administration Committee. It has already garnered 92 cosponsors in just three weeks, including 25 Democrats, one of whom is a member of the House Administration Committee, Rice.
As DeSantis said, “This legislation will protect taxpayers by making congressional settlement data public, barring tax dollars from being used to bail out congressional misconduct and requiring reimbursement of the treasury by members and staff who have had taxpayer-financed settlements paid on their behalf. The bill will also allow victims to speak publicly about harassment suffered irrespective of any non-disclosure agreements.”
Congress should act with urgency to end the practice of using taxpayer funds to settle these lawsuits.
Doing so will restore a degree of faith in the institution and remove protection from future abusers.
“For far too long, Members of Congress and staff who have committed egregious acts of sexual harassment and assault have hidden behind closed doors, anonymity, and forced non-disclosure agreements, while taxpayers paid millions in settlements for their misconduct. This is outrageous and must end now. Enough is enough,” said Rep. Gabbard.
Public office is a privilege, and we should demand a higher standard of conduct from all elected officials.
This legislation goes a long way to ending an abhorrent practice. You can write directly to your member of Congress to support this bill though the website www.NoTaxesForHushMoney.com
Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a conservative nonprofit based in Pennsylvania. Their website is LetFreedomRingUSA.com.
Source: Google Alerts
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