The Congressional Accountability Act won't solve the problem of sexual harassment in Congress

People are celebrating the revision of the Congressional Accountability Act.  Legislators will now have to pay for their predatory sexual behavior out of their own pockets and be publicly exposed.  Rep. Jackie Speier stated, "Now that we have a bill that will become law, there is going to be accountability by members."  

Lawmakers would have us believe that sexual harassment is a rare occurrence in Congress.  Senate Rules and Administration chairman Sen. Roy Blunt claims he does not know of a single settlement involving a senator.  He stated, "So, if senators will continue to conduct themselves like they appear to have been ... they may never have a settlement."  CNN reported on a Senate staffer who was touched "in a really gross, suggestive way" by a senator.  She did not report the incident.  It is unlikely that this was an isolated incident.

CNN reported that "harassment and coercion is [sic] pervasive on both sides of the rotunda."  The network conducted dozens of interviews with men and women who revealed that there is an unwritten list of male lawmakers "notorious for inappropriate or predatory behavior."  They refer to this as the "creep list."  

Three female representatives reported how male officials indecently exposed themselves on the House floor.  They would not reveal the names of the congressmen, claiming "they didn't know who they actually were."  This is hard to believe.  Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer are aware of this situation and have done nothing about it until recently.

Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol.

Congress and the media have done an excellent job in minimizing the exposure of this corruption.  The Washington Post reported that there were 235 complainants who received compensation totaling $15.2 million between 1997 and 2014.  Congresswoman Jackie Speier also used this figure.  The Congress's Office of Compliance put the figure at more than $17 million. 

This is still a gross underestimate.  It does not include non-monetary settlements.  An example is when Ambassador Bill Richardson offered Monica Lewinsky a job.  The Daily Caller reported that "numerous members hid settlements in their office budgets."  Rep. John Conyers paid a former employee $27,111.74 out of his Member's Representational Allowance account.  Also, the Office of Compliance does not always keep accurate records.  Alcee Hastings's $220,000 settlement was "mysteriously omitted" from the office's reporting.  Kamala Harris's aide recently paid over $400G to settle a harassment claim.  It was not reported where the funds came from.

The identities of these predators are well known.  However, there are numerous reasons why they are not exposed.  "Snitches get stitches."  A female congresswoman who had been sexually harassed told CNN, "I need these guys' votes.  In this body, you may be an enemy one day and a close ally the next when accomplishing something. ... So women will be very cautious about saying anything negative about any of their colleagues."  Staffers must be aware that complaints may also mean the end a promising career.

What are some of the consequences of this corrupt situation?  Kendra Arnold, executive director of the Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust, stated, "Every day that goes by without releasing the names of Members who have received taxpayer money to settle harassment and discrimination claims is another day of cover-up and another day more innocent people are put at risk of becoming victims."  This behavior can also have an effect on how a congressman votes.  If representatives have indisputable proof that a congressman engaged in perverse activity, they can dictate how he will vote.

John Dietrich is a freelance writer and the author of The Morgenthau Plan: Soviet influence on American Postwar Policy (Algora Publishing).  He has a Master of Arts degree in international relations from St. Mary's University.  He is retired from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.