Following a spate of sexual harassment allegations against members of Congress, Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis introduced a bill in late November that should win an award for the biggest no-brainer legislation of the year. The bill would end the secret system members of Congress were using to pay off their accusers.
The Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act would bar the use of taxpayer money to pay settlements or awards for workplace harassment and discrimination claims. The new legislation would also require that the names of the lawmakers, the nature of the allegations against them, and any settlement payments be made public within 30 days. The bill would further require any member who has ever paid a settlement to reimburse the treasury with interest.
“When you’re engaging in misconduct, to then have the taxpayer bail you out for the misconduct, and then keep it all secret from the public, that is just totally unacceptable,” DeSantis, R-Fla., one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said.
Under a 1995 law, even if the lawmaker was found guilty of misconduct, his or her name would be kept confidential. “They set up a permanent fund, basically unlimited, that would pay these claims as they come in,” DeSantis said. The fund had been used more than 200 times for a total of more than $17 million in payouts over the last two decades.
The two keys to the new bill, DeSantis said, are to keep the information public and to make sure taxpayers aren’t forced to fund settlements.
“Now the victims, you can keep them confidential, that’s fine,” he said. “But if you have a member, like a [Rep. John] Conyers cutting a check, or some of these guys, that’s a major problem and the taxpayer has the right to know that.”
Asked whether the disclosure agreements should be made retroactive, DeSantis said it should be up to the victims. But the names of members paying the claims should not be covered by any prior confidentiality agreement. “You can’t bar the taxpayer from having access to how their money is spent,” he said.
This video was originally featured as a part of the Washington Examiner’s series The Race To 2020: The people and places that will define a presidency. You can read more here.