An Illinois Congresswoman helped unveil a new bill this week that would prohibit lawmakers from using taxpayer dollars to pay for sexual harassment and assault settlements.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, says she was among co-sponsors of the bill to help bring transparency to harassment-claim payouts under the Congressional Accountability Act.
Bustos says her office initially sent out a statement about it because of similar allegations coming to light across the country lately.
“I don’t think there’s any profession that has been immune to this,” Bustos said in a phone call to WNIJ during a session break.
Bustos says about $17 million in secret settlements were paid in the last 20 years. She says that’s not limited to sexual harassment or assault accusations.
“I’ve been in Congress for five years now, and I’ve talked with my closest friends out here,” Bustos said. “There’s not one person that I’ve talked with that had knowledge that there was this slush fund.”
The act would require disclosure of all taxpayer-funded payments, allegation details, and the name of the accused member of Congress or staffer from those previous secret settlements. It also would prohibit future use of taxpayer dollars for settlements.
Bustos says the bill also would nullify non-disclosure agreements signed by victims.
Bustos says it’s now up to House Speaker Paul Ryan whether or not the bill advances.