Washington, D.C. (Nov. 29, 2017) — U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) held a Wednesday press conference on the House floor to urge Congress to overhaul its broken system of sexual harassment and assault in Congress and across the country, starting with ending taxpayer-funded settlements that currently total more than $17 million in 268 Congressional settlements over two decades, according to recent reports. Gabbard was joined by Reps. Ron DeSantis (FL-06), Marsha Blackburn (TN-07), Jim Cooper (TN-05), and Kathleen Rice (NY-04) to introduce the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act. This bipartisan, comprehensive legislation would ensure that perpetrators are held personally and financially accountable for their actions by ending taxpayer-funded harassment settlements and require any individual who has settled such a claim using taxpayer funds to fully reimburse the Treasury.
“For too long, survivors of sexual harassment and assault have been isolated, shamed, and bullied into silence, while their abusers walk away scot-free with the privilege of anonymity and without personal or financial accountability,” Gabbard said. “This has been happening right here in Congress, in the media, and in many other sectors of our society. No one, whether it be a Capitol Hill staffer, a Hollywood actor, a school teacher, or a soldier or anyone in any profession, at any time should have to choose between their job and personal safety.
Congress needs to act now to end the practice of taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlements, expose perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault, and provide a fair and transparent path to justice for survivors, she said.
“This behavior is absolutely unacceptable. It has no place in Congress or in our society,” she said. “It must end.”
DeSantis said the sincerity of Congress in combating harassment is in question when members and staff can have taxpayers cover for their misconduct while keeping it all secret. 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, he said.
“The bill will also allow victims to speak publicly about harassment suffered irrespective of any non-disclosure agreements,” DeSantis said. “Members of Congress and staff cannot live under special rules. The current system incentivizes misconduct and makes it difficult for victims. By exposing these secret settlements and by discontinuing using tax dollars to pay for Member misconduct, this bill will reduce the incentive for bad behavior and bring more accountability to Congress.”
The Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act will:
- Require disclosure within 30 calendar days of all settlement payments funded by taxpayers, the reason for the payment and the nature of the allegation, and the member of Congress or congressional staffer implicated in the matter.
- 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 payments.
- Require members of Congress and staff that have ever been named in a sexual harassment or sexual assault settlement paid for by taxpayers reimburse the U.S. Treasury with interest.
- Any individual who received an award may make public statements about the claims notwithstanding the terms of a nondisclosure agreement and nondisclosure agreements cannot be made a condition of any future settlements.
Original cosponsors include Jack Bergman (MI-01), Marsha Blackburn (TN-07), Dave Brat (VA-07), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Jim Cooper (TN-05), John Delaney (MD-06), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-08), Jody Hice (GA-10), Mike Johnson (LA-04), Walter Jones (NC-03), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), Luke Messer (IN-06), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Gary Palmer (AL-06), Steve Pearce (R-NM-02), Kathleen Rice (NY-04), Todd Rokita (IN-04), Francis Rooney (FL-19), Thomas Rooney (FL-17), and Brad Schneider (IL-10).