Congress details some payouts to sexual harassment accusers

Nearly $100,000 was used to pay the claims of two young male staffers

December 19, 2017, 11:44 PM

— -- The Congressional office that has been using taxpayer funds to secretly settle cases of sexual harassment on Capitol Hill lifted the veil on a sliver of data today, showing that between 2008 and 2012 it paid out $115,000 to staffers who had filed workplace sexual harassment complaints while employed by a member of the House of Representatives.

Last month ABC News reported exclusively that close to $100,000 of those funds were used to settle sexual harassment claims by two young male staffers who were working for disgraced former Congressman Eric Massa. James D. Doyle, Massa’s attorney in New York, said the former congressman had no knowledge of the payments to his staffers from the Office of Compliance.

In response to a request for information, the Office of Compliance sent a letter Tuesday to the Chairman of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., saying in those four years it awarded $342,225.85 in 15 cases ranging from accusations of sexual harassment, to sexual and racial discrimination.

The Congressional Office of Compliance (OOC), now in the spotlight amid a wave of sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill, said last month that in total it has paid out more than $17 million in taxpayer dollars over 20 years to settle workplace complaints in Congress and the legislative branch.

Yet there is still so much data the office will not provide, including the total amount of taxpayer dollars it used to settle accusations of sexual harassment specifically, or the identities of those lawmakers involved.

"Under current law, the OOC is not authorized to release information about individual awards and settlements," the office said in a statement.

The OOC can, however, release some limited information to its oversight committees, as it did today in the House of Representatives. That explains why Senator Tim Kaine, D-Va., was rejected when he made a similar request for information on December 6th asking for details on all sexual harassment claims made against senators, members of their personal and committee staff, as well as the total settlement amounts.

Laura Cech, a spokesman for the OOC, said the compliance office released some responsive information to its oversight committee (in this case the Senate Rules Committee, not Sen. Kaine's office) and said "it’s up to the committees to determine whether to release the information." That information, according to the response the Congressional Office of Compliance sent to Kaine, includes a statistical breakdown of settlement amounts involving Senate employing offices from 1997-2017.

"I think the Senate Rules Committee has the information I'm asking for and so now I've got to go to the Rules committee and try to get it out," Kaine told ABC News today.

ABC News has reached out to the Rules committee and requested they release that information.

Meanwhile, the Office of Compliance suggests that if members of Congress wants to make settlement data public, they need to change the law.

Today Chairman Harper told the New York Times there are plans to introduce a bipartisan bill this week that would, among other things, require members to reimburse the taxpayer for settlements made on their behalf.

ABC's Ali Rogin and Benjamin Siegel contributed to this report.

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