Congress

How Congress Keeps Its Sexual Harassment Hush Money Secret

Documents from a $27,000 harassment settlement from Rep. John Conyers' office show how Congress keeps its tax-funded settlements secret.

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Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) // Astrid Riecken/TNS/Newscom

BuzzFeed reported Tuesday night that the office of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) paid $27,000 to settle a previously undisclosed sexual harassment complaint against the lawmaker. The story is notable not just for the allegations against a powerful member of Congress, but for shedding light on the highly opaque process through which the House of Representatives handles such settlements—and keeps them concealed.

Amid the cascade of sexual harassment allegations ignited by The New York Times' exposé of Harvey Weinstein, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told MSNBC earlier this month that the House had paid out millions of dollars over the last decade to settle sexual harassment claims.

Under public pressure, the Office of Compliance, which acts as the House's rough simulacrum of a human resources department, released documents showing it had paid out $17 million since 1997 to settle a variety of workplace claims, including sexual harassment.

The details of those settlements, including their nature, are confidential. Claimants are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement to begin the lengthy mediation process.

Last week Speier introduced legislation that would prohibit Congress from requiring nondisclosure agreements in such situations and would require regular reporting of settlements.

"In 1995, Congress created the Office of Congressional Compliance to protect itself from being exposed, and it has been remarkably successful," Speier said in a statement. "Twenty years later, 260 settlements and more than $15 million have permanently silenced victims of all types of workplace discrimination. Zero tolerance is meaningless unless it is backed up with enforcement and accountability."

"It's clear that our country is at an inflection point with respect to the behavior of powerful men across our society," says Alex Howard, deputy director of the Sunlight Foundation, a group that works for government transparency. "Congress itself is neither excluded nor sacrosanct from that reckoning, but continued secrecy will hinder public understanding of how our representatives conduct themselves in office. Ethical standards that include training, oversight, and public disclosure of all past settlements online as open data are in the public interest, and we hope that Congress does so."

It's important to understand just how secretive the current House process for settling harassment claims is.

In most regular cases, lawsuit settlement by the federal government go through the Treasury Department's Judgement Fund, which has an online, searchable database of payouts, filterable by agency and date.

Top federal agencies by number of settlements since 2007 // Reason

For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs has settled nearly 8,000 lawsuits between 2007 and 2016, according to records from the Judgement Fund database—most of them, unsurprisingly, for medical malpractice. It is the federal agency with the second highest number of settlement payouts, behind the Social Security Administration, which has about 13,000.

But the House harassment payments described by Speier don't appear in that database. Nor do they appear in the disbursement disclosures the House is regularly required to file.

Because of the provisions of the ironically named Congressional Accountability Act, settlement payment come from a special Treasury fund that the Office of Compliance draws from as necessary. The offices responsible for the payouts, and the reasons for the settlements, are kept strictly confidential.

In Conyers' case, his office didn't even go through that process, according to the documents obtained by BuzzFeed:

[O]ne of Conyers' former employees was offered a settlement, in exchange for her silence, that would be paid out of Conyers' taxpayer-funded office budget. His office would "rehire" the woman as a "temporary employee" despite her being directed not to come into the office or do any actual work, according to the document. The complainant would receive a total payment of $27,111.75 over the three months, after which point she would be removed from the payroll, according to the document.

Because of the nondisclosure agreement and the use of regular office payroll to obscure the payout, there was practically no way for the public to know it was bankrolling Conyers' settlement.

Former House Speaker John Boehner and current House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have both issued statements saying they were unaware of the Conyers payments. That's no surprise. Congress created a perfect black box of secrecy, designed to shield its members from scrutiny, give senior leadership plausible deniability, and avoid any of the regular reporting that other federal settlements are subject to.

And it's all paid for by you.

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  1. Now I understand why Roy Moore wants to be a senator.

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  2. How is it that “Congress” is a party to any of this?

    Also, ‘nothing left to cut’.

  3. Does anyone actually believe that a member of Congress could not get this information if they really wanted it? I don’t believe that. And if they could get the information, they could release it. That statute is not a criminal statute and members of Congress are immune from prosecution for saying or doing anything on the floor of Congress even if it were.

    So, as far as I am concerned every member of Congress is an accessory to all of this. That information could be made public tomorrow if any of them gave a damn about anything other than stealing and covering each other’s asses.

    Worst political class ever.

    1. They’re immune from prosecution “in any other place” – their enraged colleagues could still punish them, if the voters allow it.

      1. Tough shit. That is why they get the big bucks. They certainly have no problems lecturing everyone else about the need to do their moral duty for God and country. God fucking forbid one of them put their sorry ass on the line for something.

        1. I’m just nitpicking, of course the whistleblowers should blow away, like they were Gabriel.

          1. What? You want the walls of Congress to fall so everyone there can be murdered? We call that terrorism these days, bucko.

            1. Whaddaya mean “we,” Paleface? I’d lay heavy odds those looter politicians have gone to great lengths to keep the non-Mohammedan public from using the internet to make bids for Head Cheese under Glass. Patrick Henry would have been the first to put up such a website, if only Ben Franklin had worked on electronics and telecomm instead of dawdling over charging capacitor batteries off of lightning bolts.

              1. Hey, Ben should have patented his basic premise ’cause it is looking today like his idea may come to fruition. (I know, I know, patents are an egregious form of government interference in the free market, but what the hey. Ben was also in favor of ditching the libertarian Articles of Confederation in favor of the statist constitution with its road to unlimited taxation,)

    2. Does anyone actually believe that a member of Congress could not get this information if they really wanted it?

      Do you want them to dress up as Dr. Rosenrosen and break into the records room?

      1. Why would you have to? That budget and the expenditures in that fund are not classified. Moreover, before this thing went public, I seriously doubt anyone would have even noticed a member of Congress looking at those records.

        Beyond that, suppose it is true that they are held in the special locked records room that not even members can enter. Okay, everyone knew this fund existed and never said anything and didn’t have a problem with it. If a member had raised this publically and made an issue of it, this would have ended a long time ago. Yet, none of them did.

        There is no way to excuse any of them in this matter. They are all equally worthless and craven.

      2. Or, perhaps, John Coctostan could help.

    3. Information: Congressman forces low-level employee into sex to keep her job. Low-level employee desperately needs the job to support her kids and husband who was wounded fighting for his country.

  4. Congress created a perfect black box of secrecy

    So it’s just like a sex doll.

    1. Is this the ‘lock box’ Al Gore kept referring to?

    2. Congress is the only thing I feel safe sharing my feelings with.

    3. Don’t laugh… with both a Junior and a Senior Antisex League, those Japanese robot girls are prolly looking cheaper and cheaper by comparison. The Congressional budget would doubtless work them in under physical therapy equipment in a file labeled Sinfest.

  5. “And it’s all paid for by you.”
    Of course it is.

  6. “Ethical standards that include training”

    Wrong answer!

    It’s as if Congressmen were shitting all over the chamber and it was proposed to have potty training.

  7. Mmmm, why, exactly, isn’t the accused party to the settlement paying this out of his own pocket?

    Ohhhh, that’s right, “Land of the Free”, “All Men are Created Equal”, blah blah blah.

  8. I seem to remember a document called the Constitution which says “…a regular statement and account of the receipts and expenditures of all public money shall be published from time to time.”

    In case Congress needs a learned commentary on this crystal-clear provision, here’s Joseph Story: “Congress is made the guardian of this treasure; and to make their responsibility complete and perfect, a regular account of the receipts and expenditures is required to be published, [so] that the people may know what money is expended, for what purposes, and by what authority.”

    1. Yuk, yuk, Tell that to the spooks at the CIA, NSA, etc. Their covert activities are too “sensitive” for the public to know, so some of their spending goes unreported or is disguised.

  9. “It’s clear that our country is at an inflection point with respect to the behavior of powerful men across our society,”

    Sexist! Seriously.

    1. Because powerful women never misuse their power for selfish ends.

      1. Or enable powerful men. One of the common threads going through all of these cases is the men in question had women around them who acted as protectors and enablers. One of the women who worked for Rose told one of the victims “that is just Charlie being Charlie”. Weinstein had several women who procured him actresses to molest and helped him intimidate or pay them off to keep them from talking. Thrush was such a known pervert women at politico warned each other never to be alone with him, yet no one seems to have said anything or tried to do anything about it.

        If we had an honest media, women wouldn’t be held so blameless in all this.

        1. Another common thread in this feminist victimhood is the war against heterosexuality.

          1. To some degree. But a lot of these guys are legitimate dirtbags. They are of course being held up as exemplars of heterosexuality rather than as the dirtbags they are.

            The irony is that the death of traditional masculinity in places like the media and Hollywood is a big part of why creeps like Thrush and Weinstein and Rose were allowed to get away with so much for so long. None of these women, sans Gweneth Palthrow whose then-boyfriend Brad Pitt told Weinstein to leave or alone or he was going to kick his ass, ever seem to have a husband or a boyfriend to look out for them. In more civilized times a piss ant douche bag like Thrush would have never dreamed of pulling the stuff he did for fear of someone’s boyfriend, father or brother kicking his ass. In the media today, where such masculinity has been persecuted to extinction, Thrush had no such worries and acted accordingly.

            1. Yeah. Feminists have made their arguments and claims terribly. They argued for almost interchangeability in the sexes, and that is absurd. They demand women ignore what they ACTUALLY want and, instead, stick with what feminists claim they want.

              Men have spent DECADES trying to do what feminists claim women want them to do. And women seem far less happy than they were in the past. Because women don’t want fucking doormats and that is exactly what feminists have spent years trying to convince everybody women want.

              So, the women date and marry abject losers and are miserable. Sure, Thrush likely has more money than a lot of other dudes, but he is also as intimidating as a damp napkin. A woman who is with a somewhat masculine guy would also have the self-confidence to tell him to take his man-tits off her and get to stepping.

              The “rape culture” exists only in the places that decry it the most. You don’t see many public companies where constant and rampant harassment/assault/rape occurrences happened That’s only in places where a few men have absolute total control of your career, which is effectively impossible in an actual free market.

              1. At some point, you have to cut the apron strings for women.

                The wide-eyed revelation should be that the symbols of power have their own nefarious ends. Asking something from the likes of Weinstein is like trying to make friends with a bear. And no, not even your rugged, burly embodiment of manhood can always save you.

                A common theme in most of these accusation has been a stunning obliviousness and a lack of street smarts. If anything, women have been tucked away from the real world for far too long.

            2. Are you really under the impression that women being sexually harassed in the workplace is some kind of recent development?

              1. Are you under the impression that only women get harassed and only men ever harass anyone?

              2. No. And what about my statement would cause you to think I am?

                First, lets understand what we are talking about. I am not talking about asking a woman out or telling her you like her outfit or all of the other aspects of normal male-female interaction that have been declared “sexual harassment” by the feminist jihad. I am talking about the assault and weird ass shit that people like Thrush and Rose engaged in.

                Second, harassment absolutely existed in the past. Were women hit on by their bosses and subtly given the message of the benefits of saying yes and the price of saying no? For sure. And that stuff was wrong. But understand it wasn’t illegal then. It is illegal now and it happens a lot less often now.

                What I don’t think happened as often in the past as now is the out and out assaults and exhibitionism that people like Thrush and Rose engaged in. That shit would have gotten your teeth kicked in in a more civilized age. It is no coincidence that it seems to be endemic in places where all traces of traditional masculinity have been removed.

              3. The private business world wouldn’t tolerate what media, Hollywood, and the government tolerates.

                …while they degrade how evil and heartless the private business world is, mind you.

      2. I finally feel safe enough in this environment to come out and say it. Dianne Feinstein made me let her sit on my face.

        1. Sure. And Barbara Boxer “made you” let her suck your dick too.

          1. It’s was horrifying. I was coming so much I thought I was going to die of dehydration. *a bloo hoo hoo*

        2. “Men have always been the primary victims of sexual harassment.”

  10. Odd that so many Left-heavy institutions (colleges, media, Hollywood, government) have such issues with rampant sexual problems.

    1. The stress of fighting a lonely battle against the Republican War on Women…the stress got to them…

  11. Gotta love the 0-indexed list of top departments. A computer programmer must have provided the requirements for it. Alas, he did not stop at 9 so it’s an awkward top-11 list.

    1. And the gap between nine and ten is great enough to justify not including ten.


  12. [O]ne of Conyers’ former employees was offered a settlement, in exchange for her silence, that would be paid out of Conyers’ taxpayer-funded office budget.

    Honestly, at what point do we start considering women who may or may not have been molested as rent seekers when they shut up for cash thus allowing other women to potentially be molested?

    That’s assuming many things, of course, such as the guilt or innocence of the individual in question but it remains a valid question.

    Should women who receive payoff’s to keep quiet about potentially criminal activity be charged as an accomplice for their enabling of a predator?

    One thing is for sure, the current system of waiting until a critical moment in a public popularity contest for government positions to level claims certainly looks like an attempt at blackmail, at the very least, to me. And why not do so, when it seems there is no downside to making these kind of allegations and the payouts are essentially free money?

    1. In her case, I am fairly sure she must sign an NDA before even entering the program to complain about harassment in college (isn’t that some bullshit?)

      Now the woman who regrets standing by while Rose was busy getting his old, withered freak on — yeah, fuck her. I’ve known plenty of scuzzy dudes in my life and none would do REGULARLY what sleazeballs like Rose did.

      Honestly, how many people do any of you know who would’ve done what these clowns did REPEATEDLY?

    2. I vote libertarian. My spoiler votes are the only sort of thing liable to change looter kleptocracy policies.

  13. “[O]ne of Conyers’ former employees was offered a settlement, in exchange for her silence, that would be paid out of Conyers’ taxpayer-funded office budget.”

    So you and me paid for his groping? I want my m0ney back; can I file suit?

  14. His office would “rehire” the woman as a “temporary employee” despite her being directed not to come into the office or do any actual work

    It’s going to be very difficult to identify this government employee from all the others.

  15. Drain this Swamp!

  16. If I was a young boy or a beautiful white woman, some wealthy liberal would have sexually assaulted me, and I would be rolling in the settlement money. 5 million dollars and free tickets to the Dodger games from an undisclosed “charity”.

    “I can’t accuse the republicans of acting like chameleons if you expose me as a predator. Can’t you see that!!!!”

  17. And here I was, thinking Charlie Schumer was as slimy as a Democrat senator ever gets. Live and learn, I guess.

    -jcr

  18. Congress from sexual harassment to insider trading has made itself above the law. That is definitely wrong. Yet we keep re-electing these same assholes. What is wrong with the voters of this nation?

    1. Why did W VA keep sending Robert Byrd back to WA/ AK Ted Stevens? We hate politicians but love the guy who tells us what we want to hear and brings home the bacon.

      1. Hitler was elected with something like 36% of the vote, but when he became Chancellor he quickly began adopting Keynesian economic policies, providing jobs and government benefits to ordinary Germans, who were suffering severe unemployment and deprivation from the effects of the Great Depression, with special consideration for members of the Nazi Party. The policies worked in that unemployment under Hitler declined dramatically and membership in the Party grew rapidly. Everybody loves government bacon. Pork and war are the health of the state.

  19. Ahha, but undoubtedly we will soon be learning more from investigative reporters, victims who feel free to ignore their nondisclosure agreements under the new regimen of making such disclosures to the cheers of the nation, and from some of the perps themselves who see honesty as the best policy that may save them from total disgrace. It promises to be titillating.

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