U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., said on Monday that if a member of Congress settles a sexual harassment claim then taxpayers have a right to know about it.
The Moline Democrat joins Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who said the week before last that members who are the subject of settlements ought to be identified.
Pressure is mounting on lawmakers to support identifying members who settle sexual harassment complaints following the news that the congressional office that handles workplace disputes said it had paid out $17 million in settlements since 1997.
The office did not say how much of that related to settlements regarding sexual harassment complaints.
“I find it unacceptable that members of Congress can use taxpayer funds to settle workplace disputes with virtually no transparency, particularly accusations of sexual harassment or discrimination," Bustos said in a statement Monday. "If a member of Congress is going to settle a sexual harassment claim, taxpayers should have the right to know about it since they're the ones footing the bill."
A spokesman, Jared Smith, said that means if a member of Congress is the person accused and there's a settlement, the lawmaker should be identified.
Loebsack said on IPTV’s Iowa Press earlier this month he was "appalled" by the use of taxpayer dollars to pay the settlements and that members or their staff who commit "egregious acts" ought to be identified. He also said they should pay the costs involved.
Elsewhere in the delegation representing the Quad-Cities, Leigh Claffey, a spokesperson for Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said that Congress needs to take a "closer look at how it handles sexual harassment allegations to make sure that those who have engaged in misconduct are held accountable."
A spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said that he believes the public has a right to know when taxpayer dollars are used to settle sexual harassment complaints.
"He is currently working on legislation to provide greater transparency in the settlement of harassment claims in Congress, including what member offices were involved," Taylor Foy said.
Grassley and Ernst co-authored a resolution to make sexual harassment training in the Senate mandatory.
In a statement Monday, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said: "Taxpayer funds should not be used for this. I support Senator Gillibrand’s bill to reform this system.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York , has, along with Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would reform the process for dealing with complaints and require disclosure of the employing office and the amount of the settlement. If a member of Congress was the harasser, the member would have to repay the treasury for the amount of the award.
Attempts to reach Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., were not immediately successful Monday afternoon.