Your tax dollars at work: Rep. Raul Grijalva edition

  • 29 November 2017
  • NormanL
Your tax dollars at work: Rep. Raul Grijalva edition

Following up on an earlier item about congressional perks, we would be remiss not to note the secretive funds and associated shenanigans members of Congress use to hush-up allegations of workplace misbehavior. Consider the case of Rep. Raul Grijalva, who, as the Washington Times reports:

...quietly arranged a “severance package” in 2015 for one of his top staffers who threatened a lawsuit claiming the Arizona Democrat was frequently drunk and created a hostile workplace environment, revealing yet another way that lawmakers can use taxpayer dollars to hide their misbehavior on Capitol Hill.

While the Office of Compliance has been the focus of outrage on Capitol Hill for hush-money payouts in sexual harassment cases, the Grijalva payout points to another office that lawmakers can use to sweep accusations under the rug with taxpayer-funded settlements negotiated by the House Employment Counsel, which acts as the attorney for all House offices.

The employment counsel negotiated a deal for taxpayers to give $48,395 — five additional months’ salary — to the female aide, who left her job after three months. She didn’t pursue the hostile workplace complaint further.

The arrangement appears to run contrary to House rules that constrain severance packages, and it caught the eye of watchdogs who were already demanding answers about payouts in the wake of harassment complaints.

“It seems like all of these House bodies are designed to help cover for members of Congress,” said Melanie Sloan, an ethics lawyer in Washington. “A large part of the problem is that each member of Congress can treat their staff as their own fiefdom and also know that it will remain silent.”

In the case of Mr. Grijalva, the senior employee left after three months on the job. Her position was filled immediately by another worker, and her email and cellphone were deactivated.

When the woman hired a lawyer and threatened a lawsuit, Mr. Grijalva halted her salary as part of the House Employment Counsel’s strategy to force her to settle the matter, according to Capitol Hill sources.

The agreement provided for her pay to resume at her full salary for five months after she left the office.

Mr. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, told The Washington Times that the pay was a severance package and that the agreement was reached without a complaint lodged with the Office of Compliance, which handles workplace grievances by congressional employees.

“On the advice of House Employment Counsel, I provided a severance package to a former employee who resigned. The severance did not involve the Office of Compliance and at no time was any allegation of sexual harassment made, and no sexual harassment occurred,” Mr. Grijalva said in an email to The Washington Times.

“Under the terms of the agreement, had there been an allegation of sexual harassment, the employee would have been free to report it. Regrettably, for me to provide any further details on this matter would violate the agreement,” he said.

We have noted before that taxpayers fund all sorts of goodies and perks for the political class. Only in recent weeks are we learning that tucked in among the usual outrages were secret funds (that you pay for) whose purpose was to cover-up bad behavior.

We would normally say this is all a good case for term limits. But we are coming around to the idea that tar and feathers might work, too.

And lest we forget...this is the same Raul Grijalva who chairs the House Progressive Caucus and was a big backer of Bernie Sanders in 2016.