Editorials

Why are taxpayer dollars being spent to settle sexual harassment complaints in Congress?

Taxpayer dollars should never be spent on secret payouts to settle sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill. But Rep. John Conyers did exactly that.
Taxpayer dollars should never be spent on secret payouts to settle sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill. But Rep. John Conyers did exactly that. AP

It’s beyond outrageous that American taxpayers should have to contribute even a cent to secret payouts following sexual harassment complaints on Capitol Hill.

And of course, if such payouts weren’t kept secret, they wouldn’t be put on the public tab at all.

Because while we might argue over bombs versus bread, no one in either party would dare insist that the cost of criminal behavior by lawmakers or their aides is all just part of their hard work on our behalf.

During yet another week of unveiling yet more odious behavior from men who wouldn’t stay veiled, we learned that the longest-serving Democrat in Congress, John Conyers of Michigan, settled just such a complaint in 2015.

It wasn’t a big sum, just $27,000.

But that’s $27,000 more than should have been charged to his constituents; is it too much to ask that lawmakers pay their own tab to settle complaints?

In fact, using his discretionary fund for that purpose was so unethical that we think Conyers should step down even if the claim that the staffer in question was fired for refusing to have sex with him is indeed false.

(We note, however, that this was also Bill O’Reilly’s defense of his millions in payouts at Fox News; he said the company kept such writing checks not because he did anything wrong, but simply to protect his family.)

The Congressional Office of Compliance said it has paid victims more than $17 million since the office was opened in the 1990s. That’s for all settlements, not only those involving sexual harassment complaints.

But we’d kind of like to know what we’re paying for.

As this rolling scandal continues to roll, California Rep. Jackie Speier has said she knows of two sitting members of Congress who are guilty of sexual harassment. One is a Democrat — not Conyers, she said — and one a Republican.

But if that’s the case, we shouldn’t have to guess who they are. Their constituents in particular need to know.

And we never again want to find that any of us are subsidizing potential predators.

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