In 2004, Republicans saw Barack Obama coming. His first big step toward the presidency was his run that year for the Senate seat then held by Pete Fitzgerald, R-Ill. Their odds of keeping the seat were slim, but the decaying state Republican Party thought they at least had a good candidate at the time — Jack Ryan, who shared Obama’s relative youth, good looks, and Harvard education.

Ryan had retired in 2000, at age 42, from Goldman Sachs to teach at a predominantly black Catholic school on Chicago’s South Side. He was intelligent and had a very strong resume, and enjoyed backing from all the relevant corners of the party. He won the GOP nomination in March 2004.

But Ryan also had a divorce in his recent past. And the papers related to his custody battle with his wife, actress Jeri Ryan, had been sealed by their mutual agreement for the good of their son.

But when Ryan won the GOP nomination, Obama’s supporters doggedly pressed journalists to get that file opened up. It was in the public interest, they said. In June 2004, in response to a lawsuit brought by Chicago media outlets, those documents were indeed made public, revealing embarrassingly that Ryan had tried to get his wife to have sex with him in public at sex clubs in three different cities.

It seems like pretty tame stuff by today’s standards, but it was enough to make Ryan drop out of the race. Still, let’s not just relitigate this. Let's think about it in the light of today’s allegations against a sitting congressman, John Conyers, who has allegedly systematically abused the power that voters gave him to harass and exploit female subordinates.

If Jack Ryan’s inappropriate request of his wife had to be revealed in the public interest, despite their shared interest in keeping it sealed, then why should Conyers' misbehavior be kept secret just because complainants in congressional cases of sexual harassment are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements? Why should we think of such non-disclosure agreements as binding if something clearly less relevant has to be known?

What right does any member of Congress have to hide the details of actual payouts that members like Conyers might have made with taxpayer money to cover up for their disgusting behavior?

We referred to the congressional system that keeps this information secret as "a protection racket for sexual miscreants." It's time that it ended.