On Tuesday, Politico reported that the Office of Compliance—the agency that handles sexual harassment complaints in Congress—had turned down Senator Tim Kaine’s request for the release of sexual harassment data pertaining to the Senate, which he planned to make public.
Kaine’s request asked for a bare minimum level of information on the number of claims filed in the last ten years against senators and their staff and the amount paid out in each settlement. In response, the OOC said thanks, but no thanks!
Previously, the OOC has released general data showing that over the last 20 years, the office has paid out $17 million for 264 settlements. But this information does not differentiate between harassment and other types of settlements, or which offices the claims came from (according to the OOC, a “large portion of cases originate from employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate”).
The OOC’s reasoning in rejecting Kaine’s request was that it would be an invasion of privacy, despite the fact that Kaine was not asking for any names. In a letter, Susan Grundmann, executive director of the OOC, wrote:
“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. Any additional disclosure would involve an invasive search of strictly confidential records, which would be contrary to existing law.”
As NBC pointed out, this seems to contradict the OOC’s own logic, given that the office previously released five years of settlement data for the House and is expected to provide information for the last 15 years. The House data revealed one sexual harassment claim that was settled for $84,000, which was later confirmed to be from Rep. Blake Farenthold. In light of these revelations, Farenthold recently announced he was no longer running for re-election.
It’s not that hard: To combat the cover-up of sexual harassment in Congress we need at least minimal data on what is happening in the first place. But getting that information is like pulling teeth.