By the time we finish writing this article, another powerful Member of Congress or a Hollywood figure will likely face credible accusations of sexual harassment or misconduct. The accusations and lawsuits are flying fast and furious against the powerful this month and it appears we’ve only scratched the surface. The sickest part about all of this is the fact that your tax dollars are being used to cover up these Congressmen’s crimes, and it’s been going on for years.
Just this week we’ve learned that Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives, settled multiple sexual harassment claims against female staffers. Plus, Charlie Rose, the longtime interviewer on PBS (which is supported by the taxpayers) has been fired from his job for playing the “Oops, I dropped my towel again!” game with at least eight female employees. How does one even get into a situation where they’re at work and they’re only wearing a towel in front of their employees? (Please don’t answer that.)
Congress has been able to get away with paying hush money to victims, courtesy of the taxpayers, thanks to the rules that it writes for itself. Since the passage of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, Members of Congress have spent $17 million in taxpayer money to pay off sexual harassment complaints to 264 victims. The payoffs were kept a total secret from the taxpayers until just this month.
There are likely far more congressional staffers — men and women — who have been victimized by Senators and Representatives, but we will never know about them because they opted not to put themselves through the lengthy, onerous and humiliating process of filing a complaint under the Congressional Accountability Act. When you understand the process in full, it’s easy to see why many staffers just throw their hands up in frustration and leave their job.
Imagine that you’re an intern or staffer for a member of Congress and a US Representative gropes your genitals on the House floor, as Rep. Jackie Speiers (D-CA) testified at least one Representative has done in recent years. Here’s the process that you would have to go through in order to be compensated for this indignity.
First, you file an initial complaint with the Congressional Office of Compliance. Then you get to suffer through 30 days of mandatory “counseling.” Once you complete that 30-day process, you must sign a confidentiality agreement stating that you will keep your mouth shut about the Representative (or Senator) who groped you. Then you get to sit through 30 days of mandatory mediation, followed by a 30-day “cooling off” period. So from the time when a Representative or Senator gropes you until you can actually file a formal complaint, 90 days passes.
Once the formal complaint is filed, you have to go through an administrative hearing and negotiations and prove your case, and then the House Committee on Administration will vote on whether to approve your settlement, which is then paid with taxpayer funds.
To make the process even more infuriating, you get to pay for your own attorney to represent you through the process, while the accused Member of Congress gets a taxpayer-funded lawyer to represent them.
At the end of that entire process, you are finally paid a settlement from the taxpayers. The Representative or Senator pays nothing out of pocket, not even attorney fees. Plus, because you signed a confidentiality agreement months earlier, the congressman’s identity and actions are hidden from the public.
A Member of Congress in other words faces ZERO consequences for their actions, which allows them to continue behaving the same way for years to come. So much for the “accountability” portion of the Congressional Accountability Act.
Congressional staffers are actually prohibited by law from filing a harassment complaint with the EEOC, as other federal workers are allowed to do. This prohibitive congressional complaint process also applies to employees at the Government Accountability Office, the Library of Congress and the Congressional Budget Office. When you think of the high turnover rates in the House and Senate, and the tens of thousands of employees who have worked there since 1995, it makes you wonder how many people were harassed, groped or otherwise humiliated and never spoke out.
There is no accountability possible when the entire process takes place in the shadows like this. The best way to bring people like John Conyers (D-MI) and Sen. Al Franken (D-MI) to account is to shine a light on their actions, which will cause them to step down in shame or allow the voters to send them packing.
It’s an outrage that this is being kept secret from the American people. We do know that there is a paper trail on the 264 victims who have been paid settlements after they were harassed by Senators and Representatives. The public has a right to know which elected officials have settled these cases, since our money was used to hush up the victims.
If you’d like to place a call to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office, the number is 202-225-0600. Tell Ryan’s office that you want the full list of Representatives and Senators who have settled sexual harassment complaints through the Congresssional Office of Compliance to be publicly released.
And sure enough, since we started writing this article, John Lasseter of Disney/Pixar has stepped down due to “missteps” with female staffers. We hope he didn’t drop his towel.
~ American Liberty Report