GOP Rep. says taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for congressional sexual harassment settlements

"We need to do a better job in society and in Congress," Rep. Leonard Lance said.

Rep. Leonard Lance on CNN's "New Day", November 22, 2017. (CREDIT: CNN)
Rep. Leonard Lance on CNN's "New Day", November 22, 2017. (CREDIT: CNN)

In an interview on CNN’s New Day Wednesday, Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) stated flatly that taxpayers should not be required to foot the bill for any sexual harassment or misconduct settlements on Capitol Hill.

Speaking broadly about the allegations against Alabama judge and U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, as well as allegations against current members of Congress like Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) — who has been accused of harassing two female staffers, agreeing to a taxpayer-funded settlement with one of them — Lance said he believed “transparency is the best way to proceed regarding these matters.”

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We need to do a better job in society and in Congress,” he told host Chris Cuomo, admitting that he had not been aware that such congressional settlements existed in the first place. “…Perhaps I’m not the person who engages in the most level of gossip in the cloak room. But I think transparency is important moving forward.”

Asked specifically whether taxpayer dollars should be used to fund those settlements, Lance, who sits on the House Ethics Committee, responded, “No.”

Will you back…measures to make sure that it’s one of you guys who pays if, God forbid, you’re in a situation like that?” Cuomo pressed. 

“Yes,” Lance answered simply, nodding his head.

Lance’s comments follow on the heels of bipartisan legislation introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on November 14, which addresses the the Hill’s transparency problem as it relates to sexual harassment or misconduct claims.

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At present, congressional procedure for handling such claims requires the victims to undergo “counseling and mediation” prior to filing their complaint, Politico noted. Even after that, as ThinkProgress’ Rebekah Entralgo reported, there’s a lengthy, cumbersome process before claims are ever resolved. Victims whose claims achieve a successful outcome are then required to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) that bars them from speaking publicly about any settlements they receive.

Up until now, those settlements have traditionally stemmed from the Treasury. But Speier and Gillibrand’s bill, the ME TOO Congress Act, would change that.

“The Member and Employee Training and Oversight On (ME TOO) Congress Act will require more transparency, overhaul the flawed complaint process, and provide better support for victims and whistleblowers,” they wrote in a statement. “Additionally, both the House and Senate bills will require mandatory annual training for Members and staff, implement climate surveys to show the true scope of this problem, afford interns access to the same resources and protections as full-time staff, end forced mediation, and overhaul the process by which Congressional staffers report sexual harassment.”

Specifically, the bill notes, “If a Member of Congress settles a claim as the harasser, the Member will be required to repay the Treasury for amount of the award or settlement.” In the event that a settlement is paid out, the bill also requires that the Office of Compliance (OOC) publish the “name of the employing office and the amount of the award or settlement” on its website.

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A staffer for Rep. Speier told ThinkProgress that the congresswoman agreed with Lance’s comments on Wednesday, adding that the accused were ultimately responsible for whatever occurred in their office and that taxpayers should not be on the hook for congressional misconduct.