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Sexual harassment settlement total in Congress grows to $199K in past 10 years

Details released Tuesday show that taxpayers have paid $199K for sexual harassment settlements over the past 10 years.
Image: The front of the U.S Capitol Building in Washington, DC on Dec. 1, 2017.
The front of the U.S Capitol Building in Washington, DC on Dec. 1, 2017.Robert E Klein / AP

WASHINGTON — New details released Tuesday show that taxpayers paid an additional $115,000 to settle sexual harassment complaints in Congress from 2008 to 2012, adding to the growing amount of such claims on Capitol Hill.

The latest information was given to Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., chairman of the House Administration Committee, by the Office of Compliance, where victims file complaints. The five years of information had not been made public before, and it was being shared with the rest of the Republican House conference during a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning.

Adding to a previously disclosed claim of $84,000 that was settled from 2013 to 2017, the new figures bring the total of sexual harassment settlements the office has made since 2008 to $199,000. That earlier settlement was for a complaint against Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, who subsequently announced he will not seek re-election.

But the release of information on such claims and settlements has been piecemeal in Congress. In the Senate, the OOC refused a request from Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., to release information on how many sexual harassment claims had been filed and how many settled.

The numbers were released Tuesday as part of an effort by Harper's committee to get a handle on sexual harassment in the halls of Congress. The committee is set to unveil bipartisan legislation this week to reform a system that is tilted to protect the accused over complainants.

The information did not include the names of victims or those accused, nor did it include other ways members of Congress can settle claims, including with individual congressional funds, which is how John Conyers, the Michigan Democrat who resigned from the House this month, settled a $27,000 sexual harassment complaint.

“As I have stated from the beginning of this review, one case of sexual harassment is one too many," Harper said in a statement. "We must create a culture within our Capitol Hill community that instills in every employee and employer, new and old, that there is no place for sexual harassment in the halls of Congress."

Harper said he intends to obtain the information for 1997 to 2007 as well.

Susan Grundmann, executive director of the OOC, told Harper in a letter accompanying the new totals that the OOC is unable to provide detailed information about the settlements because of confidentiality constraints.

"Nevertheless, we have endeavored to respond to your inquiry to the fullest extent possible under the current statutory scheme, and we hope that the enclosed information proves helpful," Grundmann wrote.

But the OOC has not released the same general details about settlements in the Senate as it has for the House. In a response Monday provided to NBC News by Kaine's office, the OOC said it was unable to do so for a number of reasons, including confidentiality requirements.

Grundmann wrote that the data would be incomplete and, therefore, unreliable because she said specifics aren’t documented on why a case advances through the settlement process.

"Earlier this month the OOC provided the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration with a statistical breakdown of settlement amounts involving Senate employing offices from 1997-2017. That information represents the full extent of what we can provide with regard to settlements under the CAA involving the Senate," Grundmann wrote. "Any additional disclosure would involve an invasive search of strictly confidential records, which would be contrary to existing law."