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Ed Whitfield's Ties to Lobbyist Wife Subject of House Ethics Probe (Updated)

Whitfield, left, has denied using his seat to boost his family's financial interests. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 1:30 p.m. | The congressional ethics police have launched a formal investigation into allegations that Rep. Edward Whitfield  has been using his House seat for family gain.  

The House Ethics Committee on Friday announced that its 10 members have voted unanimously to form an Investigative Subcommittee to determine whether the Kentucky Republican violated any law, rule or regulation with respect to ties to his lobbyist wife, Constance Harriman Whitfield. The probe centers on reports that the couple may have coordinated to advance her work on behalf of the Humane Society Legislative Fund or the Humane Society of the United States. Whitfield, who came to Congress in 1994 and easily won an 11th term in November, has denied allegations that his work on legislation against soring, a process used to train horses to walk a certain way, was related to his wife's job, saying they were both motivated to lobby against horse brutality by personal experience. He offered the same defense on Friday, telling CQ Roll Call in an email that he looks forward to cooperating with the committee.  

“The allegation that my wife lobbied my office or my staff to convince me to introduce and pass the legislation is absurd. This is an issue I have followed for many years. I introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act because in my humble opinion it was the right thing to do," Whitfield stated, noting a long list of backers, including veterinary associations from all 50 states. "The people who initiated the ethics inquiry have a total of 57 violations of The Horse Protection Act, and were unfortunately successful in stopping our efforts even though 308 House Members and 60 Senators cosponsored my legislation.”  

In a November interview with CQ Roll Call, Whitfield also pushed back on the notion that he was working to boost his wife's stock portfolio when he submitted testimony on behalf of LaserLock Technologies, Inc., to a House subcommittee, six months after she joined the company's board. The congressman's financial disclosure shows his wife had at least $50,000 invested in LaserLock.  

Whitfield said he introduced the testimony because the company was not on the witness panel in the hearing, “and my wife did have some involvement with them, but she has no stock in the company and is not involved in it today.”  

Asked about not disclosing his wife’s position on LaserLock’s board to the subcommittee, Whitfield suggested the fact had slipped his mind. “Well, at the time, I didn’t even give that any thought, truthfully,” he said. “It was a statement for the record, and they didn’t testify and so it was entered into the record.”  

Whitfield ranked 127th on CQ Roll Call’s most recent Wealth of Congress report. He reported a minimum of $1.88 million in assets, including $1.13 million in investments.  

A report released by the Office of Congressional Ethics in November suggested the couple coordinated with congressional staff to fine-tune the wording of bills, press releases and letters to federal agencies, and that Whitfield's staff arranged more than 50 Capitol Hill meetings for his wife. She reported lobbying on a dozen bills sponsored or co-sponsored by her husband between 2011 — when she began working as senior adviser to HSLF — and 2014.

The formal probe into Whitfield's activity marks the third time congressional investigators have launched an investigative subcommittee on one of the murkiest subjects in the in the ethics manual : financial conflicts of interest. Whitfield is not the only member of Congress with a spouse engaged in lobbying, nor is he the first to face allegations of inappropriate or illegal activity.

Following tricky decisions related to corruption allegations against Democratic Reps.  Shelley Berkley  of Nevada and  Maxine Waters  of California, the House Ethics Committee acknowledged that the House needs clearer guidance on conflict of interest rules. In May 2013, the committee appointed a bipartisan group to study matters related to the disclosure and handling of personal financial interests in the chamber, but no public recommendations have been released by the panel.

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