WASHINGTON, December 28, 2017: Revelations of sexual harassment in the workplace has toppled such well-known figures as Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Bill O’Reilly. In many cases, these perpetrators paid large settlements to their victims.
Part of those settlements are the agreement to keep the details secret.
The money paid came from the accused person or the organizations which employed them.
Now we are facing revelations about sexual harassment on the part of members of Congress. Those accused include Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY), Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), and Rep. Ruben Kihuen (D-NV).
In the case of these congressmen, similar settlements have been made. Their victims have all kept details of the assault secret.
But in the cases involving Congressmen, it is U.S. taxpayers who paid the bill.
This is nothing new. Several years ago, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), who remains in Congress, faced sexual harassment charges. The Treasury Department paid out a settlement of at least $200,000. Hastings, who was cleared by a house ethics committee investigation, claims he did not know the settlement was paid until after the fact.
The House of Representatives secretly paid $115,000 to settle three sexual harassment claims between 2008 and 2012. According to Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Mississippi), chairman of the House Administration Committee, the figure includes $85,000 paid in 2010 to settle claims brought by young men who said that Rep. Eric J. Massa (D-NY) had groped them.
The figure brings to $199,000 the amount paid out of a fund controlled by Congress’s secretive Office of Compliance.
Four claims paid
Since 2008 four claims were paid under a confidential procedure that many lawmakers say they did not know existed. There is no public information about the claims or which members of Congress they involve. A bipartisan bill would require members of Congress to reimburse the Treasury for sexual harassment payments.
Under federal law, congressional employees who bring claims against lawmakers must go through a confidential mediation process. Although the law does not require it, the parties typically sign a non-disclosure form. These agreements are to not talk about any settlements. Only now are taxpayers beginning to learn how their dollars are being spent.
Rep. Farenthold has acknowledged that Congress paid $84,000 to settle a claim filed in 2014 with former communications director Lauren Greene. Greene alleges that Farenthold told another aide that he had “sexual fantasies” about her, among other indiscretions.
Mr. Farenthold has now promised to repay the money to the Treasury.
Members of Congress have paid settlements from office budgets, also taxpayer funds.
Since October, seven members of the House and Senate have resigned or announced plans not to run for re-election amid allegations of sexual harassment of misconduct.
It has long been true that the very idea of congressional ethics has been an oxymoron. It is not for no reason that the public has such a negative view of Congress. In a poll in November, Gallup asked voters if they approve or disapprove of the way Congress does its job. Those who approved were 13% and those who disapproved were 81%.
The role of Congress
Members of Congress fail to understand what their job is meant to be. Ideally, it is not to represent whatever their party demands or the transitory views of their constituents.
Concerning the idea that a representative’s opinion should always be consistent with the views of 51% of those registered and voting in his or her district, National Review editor William F. Buckley, Jr. once said:
“If the latter were truly desirable, we could have running democracy without any difficulty at all by simply plugging in Dr. Gallup to a big IBM machine and turning the dial…Why have any elected officials at all. Why not just submit questions about everything to the voters, and let them decide directly?”
In the 1830s a citizen of Massachusetts suggested to John Quincy Adams that his job as a congressman was to register exactly their views on public matters.
The ex-President replied that for such a job, clerks were available.
His idea of representative government was that those sent to Washington were not to represent the ever-changing views of the constituents. The task is to exercise judgment in which such constituents had shown confidence by electing him.
If the constituents disagreed, he argued, they could turn him out of office at the next election.
The broader view of representation
Is a representative merely the voice for those registered and above the minimum age in a particular district, or is there a broader constituency to be represented?
In his book, “Orthodoxy,” G.K. Chesterton discussed what he called “the democracy of the dead.”
“If we attach great importance to the opinion of ordinary men in great unanimity when we are dealing with daily matters, there is no reason why we should disregard it when we are dealing with history…Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking around.”
Congress vs. Statesmen
The founding fathers believed in the kind of representative government in which representatives were statesmen. Not mere reflectors of the populace will or, in today’s world, the special interest groups which finance their campaigns.
It was Edmund Burke who noted that in making a decision, such a statesman must take into consideration not only the views of the current majority, but the views of all those who have come before, and all those who are yet to come.
To do otherwise, he believed, would be to enshrine neither democracy nor freedom, but the rule of the mob and the passions of the moment.
The question of whether a political party should stand for something more than victory is rarely considered.
The loss of principal in politics
As if anticipating the Republican and Democratic parties in 21st century America, Disraeli lamented in 19th century England, that the Conservative Party had abandoned any semblance of principle.
In “Coningsby,” he gives counsel to search for something meaningful:
“…hold yourself aloof from political parties which from the necessity of things have ceased to have distinctive principles, and are therefore only factions….”
In our own country, whichever party is in power, whatever the rhetoric they employ, we see them reward those who have helped them. Such as bailing out failing banks with taxpayer funds after those same banks contributed millions to both the Republicans and Democrats.
Sadly, both parties are co-conspirators in this enterprise.
And now we have reached the point where Republicans and Democrats are secretly protecting their colleagues who are guilty of sexual harassment. And using taxpayer dollars to bribe victims into silence.
It is not for no reason that only 13% of Americans approve of Congress.