RICHMOND, Va. -- In their final chance to instantly connect with voters across the Commonwealth, Senator Tim Kaine and Republican challenger Corey Stewart clashed over sexual misconduct allegations against public officials, health care, and transportation during "The People's Debate," hosted by AARP Virginia, WCVE, and CBS 6.
Following the hour-long debate, both men said they felt they got the message they wanted across to voters who watched live across Virginia on TV and social media. CBS 6 looked into claims made by both men during the Tuesday debate to provide context for those who watched.
Stewart: Congress paid out "$17 million" in sexual harassment settlements
Multiple times during the debate and radio ads released Wednesday, Stewart made claims that Congress has paid $17 million to settle sexual harassment claims against members of Congress.
"$17 million dollars of our money that's being used to settle these claims!" Stewart said. The candidate called it hypocritical for members of the Senate to make accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when their colleagues have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past.
"These hypocrites in their puffed shirts making accusations from when he was in high school, but they won't even clean up their own act," Stewart told reporters following the debate.
The candidate seems to be basing the figure off a report released in November 2017 by the Congressional Office of Compliance that notes $17 million was paid in settlement money from claims brought under the Congressional Accountability Act (CAA) of 1995. However, contrary to Stewart's claim, "a large portion" of the claims did not involve members of Congress and compliance officers said the claims may involve one or multiple violations of workplace rules.
"A large portion of cases originate from employing offices in the legislative branch other than the House of Representatives or the Senate and involve various statutory provisions incorporated by the CAA, such as the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. The statistics on payments are not further broken down into specific claims because settlements may involve cases that allege violations of more than one of the 13 statutes incorporated by the CAA," wrote Susan Tsui Grundman, Director of the Office of Compliance.
CBS 6 reached out to the Stewart campaign for clarification on the candidate's statements. In an email to CBS 6, Stewart campaign Press Secretary Nathan Brinkman said, "Release the names and we’ll find out what a 'large portion' really means."
Kaine: President Trump signed 17 of my bills
Stewart has repeatedly attacked Kaine, during the debate and on the campaign trail, saying he is an "automatic no" to anything President Trump proposes. Kaine pushed back against that characterization Tuesday.
"President Trump has signed 17 pieces of legislation of mine, and there will be two more heading to his desk when we vote on our opioid bill tomorrow. I don't oppose the president on everything. We work together when it's good for the Commonwealth," Kaine said during the debate.
A search by CBS 6 found the number 17 was correct, but also looked into what those pieces of legislation did.
The list of Sen. Kaine's bills signed by President Trump includes federal recognition of several Virginia Indian tribes, a resolution condemning the violence in Charlottesville in 2017, and a bill called the KIWI Act which allows New Zealand residents eligible to enter the U.S. as non-resident traders and investors.
Sen. Kaine was the main Senate sponsor on most of the bills but was a co-sponsor on some. However, five the bills dealt with education, and four dealt with military or veterans issues, meaning more than half of Sen. Kaine's bills signed by President Trump deal with non-controversial issues both parties usually support.
Kaine leads in most polls and has a massive fundraising edge of more than $18 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The money separation between Kaine and Stewart means the incumbent can blitz major TV markets in the closing months while Stewart likely won't have the funds for TV ads, political analysts said.
Election day 2018 is November 6th.