FACT CHECK: Has Congress Spent $200 Million On Sexual Harassment Settlements?

Shane Devine | Fact Check Reporter

Candace Owens, communications director for Turning Point USA, claimed on Twitter that Congress has spent $200 million on 200 settlements relating to affairs and sexual assault allegations since 1998.

“Congress has a slush fund, made up of tax dollars, that is used to pay off & silence their alleged sexual assaults and affairs,” she said Dec. 13. “To date, over 200 million dollars in 200 settlements have been paid since 1998.”

Verdict: False

The government paid more than $17 million in awards and settlements from fiscal year 1997 to FY 2017. The settlements were not just for sexual assault, but involved various workplace disputes, including racial discrimination and matters of pay. A large number of the claims involved agencies associated with Congress, like the Capitol Police.

Fact Check:

Owens mentioned allegations of sexual harassment in Congress after Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, was sentenced to three years in prison, in part for campaign finance violations.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to arranging hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the lead up to the 2016 presidential election for their alleged affairs with Trump. Cohen alleges that Trump directed the payments.

“But tell us more about Trump’s possible campaign finance violations,” Owens wrote.

In 1995, Congress passed the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA), which applied civil rights, labor, health and workplace safety laws to the legislative branch. It established the Office of Compliance (OOC) to administer the act, as well as a Treasury Department account to pay out settlements and awards.

The OCC reported in 2017 that 264 settlements or awards were paid under the CAA from FY 1997 to FY 2017, totaling $17.2 million – far lower than the amount cited by Owens.

These 264 payouts were not broken down by the nature of the allegation, but they include more than just sexual harassment claims. Cases involving discrimination on the basis of race, age or disability, as well as disputes dealing with contracts or pay are covered under the CAA.

The CAA applies to employees who work in congressional offices, but it also covers agencies associated with Congress, including the Capitol Police, Congressional Budget Office and Library of Congress. The OCC says a “large portion” of the cases did not originate in House or Senate offices.

Owens did not provide The Daily Caller with a source for her claim. On her characterization of the Treasury account as a “slush fund,” she acknowledged that the fund is public knowledge, but took issue with the fact that the names of alleged harassers are kept private. (Parties to a settlement agreement decide whether to keep the case confidential.)

It’s unclear how much of the $17 million has gone specifically toward sexual assault allegations.

In November 2017, Gregg Harper, former chairman of the Committee on House Administration, requested that the OOC provide statistics on settlements and awards involving House-led offices, including those relating to sexual harassment.

The agency noted one settlement for sexual harassment costing $84,000 since FY 2013; between FY 2008 and FY 2012, it listed three sexual harassment settlements worth $115,000. There were no sexual harassment claims listed for FY 1996 to 2007. The OOC told The Daily Caller that these cases were not listed out because “sexual harassment” was not a distinct category in their case records system. Most cases allege multiple workplace violations.

TheDC was given the same explanation as to why a separate compilation of settlements and awards involving Senate-led offices did not list any cases of sexual harassment.

There has been at least one case in recent years where a notable congressman did not use the Treasury Department fund, meaning that it was not part of the $17 million figure. Former Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, once the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, spent more than $27,000 from his office’s budget in 2015 to settle a former employee’s allegation that she was fired for resisting his sexual advances.

Facing calls for him to resign and other allegations of sexual harassment, Conyers retired after information about the transaction surfaced in 2017. He has denied any wrongdoing.

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Shane Devine

Fact Check Reporter

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