Congress must end taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlements

It’s long past time to stop members of Congress from using taxpayer dollars to settle sexual harassment claims. Many people have simply demanded resignations when the circumstances merit it. But that is not enough. Congress needs to act to prevent these situations from continuing.

No one knows how many settlements are involved, but any honest observer knows intuitively that secrecy is no solution to scandal.

Recently, the nonprofit organization I head, Let Freedom Ring, released a letter signed by more than 60 national conservative leaders calling for an end of this congressional “hush fund” that has issued paid settlements to victims of sexual harassment by members of Congress and their staffs. This letter was sent to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., with a request that they give this issue priority attention.

The view of the cosigners is simple: Taxpayer dollars should never fund sexual harassment settlements of members of Congress or their staffs. Nine public polls taken in the last three months reveal the deep disdain the American people have for both the acts of sexual harassment and the subsequent taxpayer settlements. 

Leaders from all sides of the conservative movement likewise believe this practice must change. The national conservative leaders behind this effort represent all major elements of the conservative movement – economic, social and national security, as well as representatives of the tea party.

From former presidential staff members, to public policy organization leaders, to faith and business leaders, the consensus is the same: let’s end this issue of taxpayer-funded hush money.

Fortunately, there is already a legislative solution. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., has introduced H.R. 4494, the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act. This bill would take steps to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds for sexual harassment settlements and establish accountability and transparency needed for our public officials.

The bill has wide, bipartisan support, already boasting 100 co-sponsors (74 Republicans and 26 Democrats). It has been referred to the House Administration Committee, but so far has not been considered.

As Rep. DeSantis said: “This legislation will protect taxpayers by making congressional settlement data public, barring tax dollars from being used to bail out congressional misconduct and requiring reimbursement of the treasury by members and staff who have had taxpayer-financed settlements paid on their behalf. The bill will also allow victims to speak publicly about harassment suffered irrespective of any non-disclosure agreements.”

The bill goes a long way to ending an egregious practice. With overflowing support from the public, an endorsement from many national conservative leaders, and a piece of legislation with over 20 percent of the House as co-sponsors, there is simply no reason that Congress cannot act.

Public office is an honor and privilege, and we should demand a higher standard of from our elected officials.

Citizens who wish to see the Hush Fund eliminated can write directly to their member of Congress though the website

Colin Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a conservative nonprofit based in Pennsylvania. Their website is