The Committee on House Administration recently released data from the Office of Compliance (OOC) showing it paid $342,225.85 in taxpayer funds on settlements for sexual harassment and discrimination charges leveled against House members between fiscal year 2008 and fiscal year 2012.
The release came after pressure from the media and the public demanding that the OOC owed taxpayers an explanation about the settlements, including money paid out for sexual harassment claims.
But now the congressional office that handles sexual harassment complaints in the Senate, along with a top Republican senator, is refusing to release information about taxpayer dollars spent to settle claims, according to Politico.
Congress’ Office of Compliance (OOC), which oversees payments to resolve sexual harassment claims and other workplace disputes, has given data on the Senate’s taxpayer-funded settlements to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.).
But the compliance office has declared that the comparable data for Senate offices “may contain inaccuracies,” rejecting a request from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) to divulge the numbers. And Shelby, who was given the information in his role as head of the Rules panel, is in talks with his Democratic counterpart on releasing the data as Kaine vows to “start raising hell” to shake it loose.
“It’s not classified, like national security stuff,” Kaine said. “I think I’m as entitled to it as anybody.”
Kaine said overhauling the way sexual harassment is handled “depends on members having some awareness of the scope of the problem. So anybody who doesn’t want the information to get out, in my view, is being in the way of trying to fix the problem.”
Lack of disclosure has raised suspicions about the level sexual harassment settlements has reached in the Senate and which members were involved, Politico reported.
Shelby’s Democratic counterpart on the Rules committee, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-MN), seems to agree with Kaine. Klobuchar said this week that she asked Shelby to release the harassment numbers, according to Politico.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said the efforts to get the chamber’s sexual harassment settlement information is “a work in progress, but I think there’s enough of us committed to transparency that we’ll get there.”
When the OOC said last month that it has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer-funded settlements of Hill workplace disputes since 1997, that high number “got kind of seared in everybody’s brain,” McCaskill said, when, in fact, the payouts covered a broad range of discrimination issues, not just sexual harassment.
The OOC said it has done what it is required to do by giving the settlement data to the Senate Rules Committee and House Administration Committee.
“It’s up to the committees to decide whether to release the information,” the OOC outreach manager, Laura Cech, told Politico via email.
The House Administration panel revealed Tuesday that of the $342,225.85 in taxpayer funds paid in settlements and awards, three sexual harassment claims in that chamber have led to $115,000 in payments between 2008 and 2012.
That panel released data on the lone House sexual harassment settlement the OOC paid between 2013 and 2017 — an $84,000 agreement traced by Politico to Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX).
Farenthold said he would repay the money to the U.S. Treasury and will not be running for re-election.
In the Politico report, The OOC added that it would “not necessarily know about” any harassment settlements paid using lawmakers’ personal office budgets, as was the case for former Rep. John Conyers (D-MI). Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) also admitted to using his House Natural Resources Committee budget to pay a claim filed by a former aide who charged Grijalva oversaw a “hostile workplace.”
One more contrast between the chambers on how sexual harassment charges are handled: House rules require the Administration Committee to approve all harassment claims paid from the compliance office’s fund, leaving it with its own data to double-check the OOC internal information.
The Senate has no such requirement, raising concerns about the reliability of the information, according to a source familiar with the issue, Politico reported.
Twenty senators in both parties have joined Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) bid to overhaul the OOC, with Republicans and Democrats agreeing that it is time to open the chamber’s harassment settlement books.
“I think the public needs to know how their money is being spent,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) told reporters. “And there needs to be transparency if we’re ever going to get through this ugly time in our society where women are treated as less than equals in the workplace.”
Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MI), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, announced that when the House data was released, not only transparency was required but an end to sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.
“As I have stated from the beginning of this review, one case of sexual harassment is one case too many,” Harper said. “We must create a culture within our Capitol Hill community that instills in every employee and employer, new and old, that there is no place for sexual harassment in the halls of Congress.”