Ethics opens probe into Rep. Whitfield

The House Ethics Committee announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into Rep. Ed WhitfieldWayne (Ed) Edward WhitfieldWhy Republicans took aim at an ethics watchdog What Azerbaijan wants from Israel? Overnight Energy: Green group sues Exxon over climate science MORE (R-Ky.) regarding allegations that he improperly used his office to help his wife lobby Congress on behalf of the Humane Society.

House rules forbid lawmakers' spouses from lobbying their congressional offices.

Whitfield's wife, Constance, is a registered lobbyist for the Humane Society Legislative Fund. The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent entity which reviews potential misconduct and refers cases to the House Ethics Committee, alleged last year that Constance advocated for a number of bills that her husband sponsored or co-sponsored regarding animal welfare.

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The bills in question covered a number of issues involving protections for horses and apes, and the establishment of dog training programs for military veterans with post-traumatic stress. The time period in question is from 2011 to 2013.

Whitfield's wife stated in an email that her husband's congressional office had been "so crucial in setting up meetings between Republicans and third parties," the OCE report said.

Whitfield said in a statement that he will cooperate with the investigation regarding his bill to prevent the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses. Soring, the use of chemicals so that horses' hooves hurt when they touch the ground, is an illegal practice employed by some trainers to make the horses raise their legs more flashily. 

"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," Whitfield said. "I introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act because in my humble opinion it was the right thing to do." 

Whitfield and the Humane Society accused the bill's opponents of spearheading the ethics allegations.

"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," Whitfield said.
 
The Humane Society asserted that the lawmaker's involvement wasn't motivated by his wife's work as a lobbyist.

“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,” Wayne Pacelle, president of The Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement to The Hill.  

“Ed’s work was entirely motivated by his long-standing and deeply felt passion for stopping animal cruelty," Pacelle added.
 
Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Texas) will chair the investigative subcommittee, while Rep. Ted Deutch (Fla.) will serve as the ranking Democrat. Reps. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) and John Carney (D-Del.) will also serve on the panel investigating Whitfield.
 
This story was updated at 1:37 p.m.