Democratic candidate Paul Davis says Congress should disclose the names of lawmakers who have settled sexual harassment cases with taxpayer dollars.
Davis, a Lawrence attorney and former state lawmaker, is seeking the seat in Kansas’ 2nd District. U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Topeka Republican, plans to retire at the end of her current term.
Davis, who lost a tight race for governor against Sam Brownback in 2014, unveiled a series of transparency proposals Wednesday as he seeks to become the first Democrat to win a congressional seat in Kansas in 10 years. His proposals included several progressive wish-list items, including an amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which opened the door to unlimited spending by corporations and unions.
During an interview with The Star, Davis addressed an additional transparency concern that has gained national notice in recent weeks: the confidentiality of Congress members’ sexual harassment settlements.
“These are our taxpayer dollars that are being used to settle these suits. And whether it’s a sexual harassment lawsuit or it’s an employment discrimination lawsuit or anything else, the public does need to know,” Davis said when asked if he would support greater disclosure in these cases.
“Certainly we want to protect the identities of the victims in those circumstances, but it’s our taxpayer dollars and we ought to know what’s going on.”
The issue has been a focal point after BuzzFeed reported last month on a $27,000 settlement in a case of alleged harassment by Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who subsequently resigned his seat after more than five decades in Congress.
Davis said he would support changing a 1995 law that requires that settlements against members of Congress be kept confidential.
He repeatedly emphasized the need for transparency reforms in Washington. He called for legislation that would create stronger disclosure requirements on political spending and stricter regulations on online ads.
He tied the push for tax cuts to the influence of political donors and said passing a constitutional amendment to undo Citizens United would help restore fairness to the political system.
“There’s a lot of people who are very wealthy … who are putting more and more money into politics, obscene amounts of money,” he said.
“I fundamentally disagree with the notion that some organization can swoop in right before an election, spending millions of dollars … and we call that free speech,” he said. “Congress and state legislatures ought to have the right to rein that in.”
Jeff Glendening, the Kansas director of Americans for Prosperity, an anti-tax group with ties to Wichita-based Koch Industries, criticized Davis’ proposals that would require AFP to disclose its donors.
“Just surprised that he’s trying to replace the First Amendment of the Constitution with another amendment,” Glendening said after reviewing Davis’ plan. “We really believe that supporters of our cause have the right to speak out without retribution and that is what the First Amendment is there to protect, free speech.”
Tiffany Muller, the president of End Citizens United, a national group that backs Davis’ campaign, noted reports that the Koch network was tying its plans to spend $400 million in the 2018 election on behalf of GOP candidates to whether Congress succeeds in passing tax cuts.
“That’s not about equity and free speech. That’s about buying Congress in order to pad their bottom line,” said Muller, a Kansas native and former member of the Topeka City Council.
Davis has so far raised more money than all of the Republicans in the race combined, more than $400,000 as of September. He emphasized that the bulk of his money has come from individual donors, but did not commit to refusing money from corporations or political action committees.
During the interview, Davis weighed in on a variety of other issues, including health care, a topic which is very personal because of his family’s history.
Davis’ daughter, Caroline, 7, was born with sagittal craniosynostosis, a condition in which an infant’s skull fuses prematurely before the brain is fully formed. The condition can be fatal in severe cases. Caroline had to have surgery when she was 6 months old to repair her cranial structure.
“We had to fight with the insurance company to get her procedure covered. Had we not had insurance, no way we could have afforded that. It was a very, very expensive surgery. I think it gives you a spotlight in on the struggles that many families are having with obtaining good health care coverage,” Davis said.
He accused Republicans of trying to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, but also acknowledged that there were problems with the law, which was former President Barack Obama’s signature policy, including a failure to curb prescription drug costs.
He said bipartisanship would be needed to improve the law and stabilize the health care market in the long term.