Senate committee releases settlement details from cases since 1997

A Senate committee intends to disclose what could be revelatory information about how much taxpayer money has gone to...

Posted: Dec. 21, 2017 2:46 PM
Updated: Dec. 22, 2017 7:57 AM

A Senate committee intends to disclose what could be revelatory information about how much taxpayer money has gone towards sexual harassment settlements in the Senate -- an announcement that would end days of silence on the issue from a senior Republican senator.

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee, chaired by GOP Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, intends to release records related to sexual harassment complaints and settlements reached in the Senate over the years, according to a source familiar. The timing of the disclosure was not immediately clear.

Shelby was handed over "statistical breakdown of settlement amounts involving Senate employing offices from 1997-2017" earlier this month, the Office of Compliance revealed this week. That information is assumed to include the frequency and size of sexual harassment-related settlements reached in the Senate over the years.

But so far, Shelby had not disclosed that information publicly.

This lack of disclosure came to light this week following Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine's formal request earlier this month to the Office of Compliance. Kaine asked for a release of records detailing the scope of sexual harassment complaints filed against Senate offices over the years.

In a letter to the head of the office, Kaine had asked for a release of records detailing the scope of sexual harassment complains in the Senate, including the number of harassment claims filed over the last decade against senators and their staff; the number of claims that ended in "some form of resolution"; and the amount of each settlement paid out from a fund set up with taxpayer dollars.

But in a response to Kaine's request, the compliance office's executive director, Susan Tsui Grundmann, wrote this week that a statistical breakdown was already shared with the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and that any additional disclosure would invade "strictly confidential records."

Shelby's decision to not publicly disclose this information comes amid widespread and bipartisan calls across Capitol Hill in recent weeks for increased transparency on sexual harassment. It is also particularly notable given that the senator's counterpart in the House -- House Administration Committee Chairman Gregg Harper -- has released comparable information about sexual harassment settlements involving House offices over the years.

Kaine tweeted on Wednesday: "The House had this data and released it. The Senate has this data too. It needs to release it now."

According to Harper, he was informed by the Office of Compliance that there were three settlement payouts in the House related to sexual harassment between 2008 and 2012, totaling $115,000. And from 2013 to the present, Harper said there was just one sexual harassment settlement involving a House office for $84,000. Subsequently, this was revealed to have involved GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas and a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment. Farenthold has said he will not seek re-election next year.

The lack of disclosure came to light this week following Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine's request

The Senate Rules and Administration Committee is chaired by GOP Sen. Richard Shelby

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