Leaders of conservative organizations are calling on Congress to pass a law to prevent taxpayer funds from being used to pay settlements to alleged victims of sexual harassment and other workplace violations by lawmakers.
Their call for congressional action was spurred by the recent revelation that $17 million has gone toward secretly paying off such claims against members of Congress over the past 20 years.
More than 60 conservative leaders signed a memo and letter Jan. 18 penned by the Conservative Action Project. Among the signatories was Edwin Meese III, attorney general under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, several other Reagan administration officials, and leaders of many nonprofit organizations. Meese is also the Ronald Reagan fellow emeritus at The Heritage Foundation.
The authors of the memo called the recent revelation of so-called “hush” funds “shocking, offensive and profoundly wrong.” They cited “at least nine public polls” taken in November and December that found the American public “revulsed” by taxpayer money going to the settlements and to hush funds.
The Conservative Action Project coalition is encouraging conservative activists to conduct a “grassroots campaign” to prod members of Congress into taking the “moral high ground” and supporting the legislation.
In addition to the memo, the coalition members sent a letter Jan. 18 to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., urging them to address the issue promptly.
Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., introduced H.R. 4494, the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act. The bill would prevent the use of public funds in settlement cases involving sexual assault or sexual harassment.
The Conservative Action Project said that while any bill that takes action against such hush funds would earn its support, it advocated passage of DeSantis’ bipartisan bill, which already has 100 co-sponsors, 74 Republicans and 25 Democrats.
DeSantis’ bill would amend the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, which requires members of Congress to follow the same employment and workplace safety laws that businesses are already required to follow.
The bill would also require the Office of Compliance to publicly report the names of the perpetrators and how much tax money went toward each settlement. Notably, the bill would keep victims’ names private.
The perpetrators would also have to pay back the money with interest, and the bill would prohibit the use of nondisclosure agreements in future cases involving sexual harassment or sexual assault.
DeSantis’ bill was introduced in the House on Nov. 30 and was referred to the Committee on House Administration.