Lance Bill Ends Taxpayer-Funded Cover Ups of Sexual Harassment
WASHINGTON, D.C. --- Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ- 07), New Jersey’s only member of the House Ethics Committee, introduced legislation today to end taxpayer-funded settlements of sexual harassment claims and other workplace disputes against members of Congress and congressional staff. Lance’s bill would also reveal publicly the names of those perpetrators who have engaged in such conduct in the workplace.
“Taxpayers in congressional districts across the Nation are outraged over allegations and the lack of transparency and accountability concerning taxpayer-financed harassment settlements in Congress. Since 1997, Congress has paid millions of dollars out of a secret U.S. Treasury Department fund to settle hundreds of workplace claims against members of Congress and congressional aides. Such secrecy is a gross betrayal of public trust and must end immediately. My legislation, if enacted, would increase government transparency for the American taxpayer, create a safer work environment and hold members of Congress and congressional staff — past and present — accountable for their actions,” Lance said.
Lance’s Ensure Transparency and Honesty in Congressional Settlements (ETHICS) Act comes following news reports of millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded settlements to resolve workplace disputes on Capitol Hill. The Seventh District lawmaker introduced this legislation on the same day the U.S. House unanimously passed legislation to mandate sexual harassment training and victim support services in Congress.
Over the past several weeks, numerous individuals from all walks of life have voiced their stories of sexual harassment. A number of these allegations are tied to members of Congress, both past and present. According to the congressional Office of Compliance, the federal government has paid more than $17 million in taxpayer money in workplace settlements since 1997, but has not said how much of that money has been spent settling sexual harassment claims.
Lance’s ETHICS Act would:
1. Prohibit any future taxpayer-financed sexual harassment settlements;
2. Require the Office of Compliance to release more detailed information on sexual harassment settlements paid at taxpayer expense, including the names of the perpetrator, the employing office of the perpetrator and the amount paid to the victim.
Lance also spoke on the floor of the U.S. House during the debate on the resolution requiring workplace harassment training for members and staff where the Seventh District lawmaker urged his colleagues to address the problem on Capitol Hill immediately.
“Congress should be leading on this issue, helping to foster a workplace environment free of sexual harassment, discrimination and other terrible behavior. Congress must create an atmosphere where those who serve their country feel protected, supported and believed – no matter the power of the offender,” the Seventh District lawmaker said.
In the news:
Rep. Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) on Wednesday said that taxpayer money should not be used to pay sexual harassment settlements for members of Congress, adding that he would back a measure that would make individual congressional offices pay settlements themselves.
"I believe transparency is the best way to proceed regarding these matters," Lance said on CNN's "New Day." "I was not even aware of this."
Pressed by CNN's Chris Cuomo on whether he believed taxpayer funds should be used to cover the costs of sexual misconduct settlements involving lawmakers and their staffers, Lance bluntly replied, "no."
Cuomo then asked if he would support a measure that would require those payments to come out of congressional office coffers, to which Lance replied, "yes."
Lance's comments come as a growing number of powerful men in politics, business, media and beyond face allegations of sexual impropriety and harassment, particularly against female employees and co-workers.
Some lawmakers, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), have blasted the process by which congressional staffers can report misconduct by lawmakers, saying it lacks transparency and revealing that settlement money comes out of a Treasury fund. They have introduced legislation to change that process.
On Tuesday, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the longest-serving current congressman, became the subject of allegations that he made inappropriate and unwanted sexual advances and remarks to former female staffers.
It was revealed that he had settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 with a former employee who alleged he fired her because she would not "succumb to [his] sexual advances."
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) has also faced allegations of sexual misconduct.
Last week, a Los Angeles morning show host accused the comedian-turned-senator of forcibly kissing and groping her in 2006. And this week, another woman alleged that Franken had groped her while the two were taking a photo together in 2010.