According to multiple sources, the Congressional Office of Compliance secretly paid almost $100,000 in taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims, reported ABC News. The claims came from at least two young male staffers who worked for former Congressman Eric Massa.
The claims were settled after New York Democrat Massa resigned in 2010. He resigned amid a pending ethics investigation into allegations that he groped and sexually harassed members of his staff.
When asked for comment, a spokesman for the Office of Compliance refused to either confirm nor deny any of the terms of the settlement. They said they are required by law to keep those records secret.
In the midst of numerous allegations against notable members of the U.S. government, Congress is grappling with sexual harassment. They are currently voting on whether to require workplace training on sexual harassment.
As ABC notes, the Office of Compliance was already in the spotlight.
“It has paid out more than $17 million in taxpayer dollars over 20 years to settle workplace complaints in the halls of Congress,” writes ABC.
That amount was first revealed by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-California. She’s now leading an effort to reform the claims process in Congress, which is driven by public backlash over the use of taxpayer money to secretly settle claims.
The 1995 Congressional Accountability Act first gave the Office of Compliance the ability to use taxpayer dollars from the Department of Treasury to settle harassment claims against members of Congress.
Congress revealed that the $17 million it's paid out has been used in 264 individual cases. It’s not clear how many of those cases dealt specifically with sexual harassment. The Office of Compliance will not release that data.
As of now, there’s no way to discover who was harassed. Accusers who resolved sexual harassment complaints were almost always required to sign a non-disclosure agreement as a part of the terms for taking the money.
“The entire process is designed solely to protect the institution of Congress,” a person intimately familiar with Massa’s cases, who asked not to be identified, told ABC.
James D. Doyle, Massa’s attorney in New York, released a statement after the information was revealed. He said the former congressman had no knowledge of the payments to his staffers from the Office of Compliance. Doyle called this process unfair to both the accuser and the accused.
In other news, Bette Midler accused Geraldo Rivera of sexually assaulting.