WASHINGTON - Ethics committees from the House and Senate requested records on Friday detailing taxpayer-financed payments made over the years to settle claims of sexual harassment, discrimination and other prohibited behaviour by members of Congress.
A separate review shows that the Office of Compliance, which administers the payments, spent nearly $360,000 over the past five years to settle a half dozen discrimination or harassment claims. The office promised the House Administration Committee that it would gather data for previous years as quickly as possible.
Congressional leaders are under pressure to respond to a national outcry against sexual harassment, with Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., the latest lawmakers facing allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour.
Rep. Susan Brooks, the Republican chairman of the House Ethics Committee, and Rep. Ted Deutch, the top Democrat on the committee, wrote to the Office of Compliance's executive director requesting that she "promptly" provide the committee with all records relating to alleged employment practices prohibited by statute and House rules.
The committee generally investigates after a referral is made about a particular lawmaker. The move Friday is unusual because of its pro-active nature. It comes after the House passed legislation earlier this week requiring annual anti-harassment training for lawmakers and aides.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said an upcoming target for examination would be the secretive practice lawmakers have used to settle harassment and discrimination complaints. No information is publicly released and recipients must promise silence.
In seeking information about the payments, leaders of the Ethics Committee did not place any restrictions on how much time had lapsed since the settlement had occurred. About the only limitation in the record request is that the information pertains to current members of the House and their employees.
Later in the day, Sens. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., and Christopher Coons, D-Del., sent a similar letter seeking payment information from the Office of Compliance. Isakson is chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee and Coons is the vice chairman. Their request was for records involving current senators or employees of their office.
At the request of Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., chairman of the House Administration Committee, officials have gathered statistics dating to Oct. 1, 2012, involving claims against the offices of six House members. No lawmaker or employee was cited by name.
The breakout for the claims:
—$84,000 for a claim alleging sexual harassment
—$76,000 for a claim alleging age discrimination.
—$7,000 for a claim alleging discrimination because of sex, religion and retaliation.
—$37,250 for a claim alleging disability discrimination and retaliation.
—$5,200 for a claim alleging discrimination based on race, national origin, military service and retaliation.
—$150,000 for a claim alleging discrimination based on veteran status.
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