Legislative work related to an iconic Kentucky industry in Congress has landed Rep. Edward Whitfield at the heart of an ethics probe, which the House Ethics Committee announced Monday it will continue to review.
A complaint alleges that the Bluegrass State Republican's wife, Constance Harriman Whitfield, lobbied him on behalf of the Humane Society Legislative Fund to push a slate of bills, including legislation to curb the practice of "soring" horses to change their gait.
The couple coordinated with congressional staff to fine-tune the wording of bills, press releases and letters to federal agencies, an Office of Congressional Ethics report suggests, and arranged more than 50 Capitol Hill meetings for Whitfield's wife. She reported lobbying on a dozen bills sponsored or cosponsored by her husband between 2011 — when she began working as senior adviser to HSLF — and 2014. Whitfield came to Congress in 1994 and easily won an 11th term last week. He has maintained he decided to propose anti-soring legislation before his wife was involved in the issue. However, he acknowledged to The Tennessean that she was involved in helping get support for his bill.
His congressional office referred CQ Roll Call to a July 28 statement alleging opponents affiliated with Tennessee Walking Horses filed the ethics complaint to sidetrack the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act legislation. Marty Irby, a spokesman for the congressman, said the office had no further comment on Monday.
Whitfield has said he and his wife were motivated to lobby against the slaughter of horses after witnessing a sick horse at a 2004 auction in Pennsylvania being loaded onto a trailer for a 1,500-mile trip to Texas to be killed. That year, he spoke on the House floor about horses "crammed into double decker trailers, where conditions are so bad that many horses arrive at the slaughtering facility injured." The last horse slaughter plants were shuttered in 2007. Whitfield's office said the anti-soring bill was introduced in response to a 2010 report from the inspector general of the Department of Agriculture.
Whitfield's wife is not unique as a lobbyist with family ties to Congress. The House tried to crack down on the practice with new ethics legislation in 2007. The chamber's ethics manual instructs exercising "special caution" when the spouse of a member or staffer is a registered lobbyist, and states that members must prohibit their staff from having any lobbying contacts with that spouse, including oral or written communication on behalf of a client.
In addition to requesting information from Whitfield, his wife, congressional staffers and representatives of the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, OCE requested testimony from a fellow House member, a former senator and two Senate staffers. The report also details a meeting with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. Whitfield cooperated with the OCE review, but could not be interviewed, citing medical reasons. He presented a statement to OCE board on May 29, according to the report.
The Humane Society of the United States issued a statement supporting Whitfield. “From the start of his public service, and more than a decade before his wife became professionally involved with the Humane Society, Congressman Whitfield has been a leader on a wide range of animal welfare legislation, particularly horse protection,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States. “None of this work is done for personal benefit, but because of a long-standing and deeply felt passion for stopping animal cruelty. The groups who brought the Ethics Committee complaint are engaged in torturing horses, and have tried to place obstacles in the way of passing the legislation.”
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