A Washington, D.C.-based watchdog on Monday named several prominent Democrats to this year’s top-five list of ethics violators but reserved the number-one slot for a group whose members are not even fully known: sexual harassers in Congress.
When the #MeToo movement extended from entertainment and media to politics and started taking down politicians, it blew the cover off of a previously unknown tax-funded “shush fund” — a congressional account lusting members of Congress have used to make sexual harassment cases go away.
Reportedly, $27,000 from the shush fund was paid in 2014 to settle a claim by a female staffer for Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who resigned Dec. 5, 2017. Similarly, $84,000 from the fund was reportedly paid to settle a claim by Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold’s former spokeswoman, also in 2014.
The Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) collectively listed the unknown number of unnamed members of Congress who have used the settlement fund as the number-one ethics violator for 2017.
“Every minute those names remain secret is another minute that our elected officials are not being held accountable for their reprehensible behavior,” FACT said in a statement.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Ron DeSantis, (R-Fla.) with 88 co-sponsors — the Congressional Accountability and Hush Fund Elimination Act — would require the Congressional Office of Compliance to submit the names of members who have used taxpayer funds to settle sexual harassment claims and require them to reimburse the federal treasury.
It also would void nondisclosure agreements that complainants signed, allowing them to speak publicly.
FACT in November called for Congress to release the names of members of Congress who have been connected to the $17 million victims have received as part of settlements over the past two decades.
The other four ethics violators named by FACT are:
- Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who continued to employ an information and technology aide after he was barred from the House of Representatives computer system amid a criminal investigation. FACT complained that the congresswoman refused to remove Imran Awan from the House payroll and that she compensated him for several months, firing him only after he was arrested on bank fraud charges while attempting to flee the country in July.
- Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), whose congressional chief of staff simultaneously served as the congressman’s campaign treasurer. FACT in January filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics over the arrangement involving Michael Collins. The House Ethics Committee opened an investigation in June.
- Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), who used taxpayer funds to overpay his longtime girlfriend. FACT filed a complaint in March against Hastings, who paid the maximum salary allowed by law to Patricia Williams, deputy director of his district office in Broward County. She was the highest-paid employee working for Hastings for several years, earning $2.4 million since 2000. FACT argues that members of Congress cannot legally pay employees whose duties are not commensurate with their compensation.
- The Democratic National Committee (DNC) and its chairman, Tom Perez, who transferred funds from his campaign committee to those of his former rivals for the post. FACT in October asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate the transfers, which helped vanquished candidates pay off campaign debt. Perez used more than $27,000 in February to pay off debts for Jamie Harrison, Jehmu Green and Sally Boynton, all of whom backed Perez after dropping out of the race. FACT contends the payments violate campaign finance laws.
Neither the DNC nor any of the politicians named in the FACT report responded to LifeZette’s requests for comment.
(photo credit, homepage images: Tom Perez, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore / Alcee Hastings, CC BY 2.0, by Cliff ; photo credit, article images: Tom Perez, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Gage Skidmore / Alcee Hastings, CC BY 2.0, by Cliff / Debbie Wasserman, CC BY 2.0, by Medill DC)