Ethics panel rebukes Kentucky Republican
The House Ethics Committee has rebuked 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.) for failing to prevent inappropriate communications between his staff and lobbyist wife, but concluded he didn’t intentionally violate rules against the practice.
 
The panel released a report conducted by an investigative subcommittee that launched last year to probe whether Whitfield improperly used his office to help his wife, Constance Harriman, lobby Congress on behalf of The Humane Society. House ethics rules prohibit lawmakers’ spouses from lobbying their offices.
 
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The investigation began after the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent House entity that reviews cases and refers them to the House Ethics Committee, found that Whitfield’s wife lobbied for multiple bills sponsored by her husband.
 
In its report, the investigative subcommittee found that Whitfield’s wife had uniquely advantageous access to his staff that “constituted a special privilege to her, which other lobbyists were not and would not have been granted.”
 
However, the investigative subcommittee concluded that Whitfield’s lack of guidance to his staff to abide by ethics rules didn’t meet the standard for a formal House sanction like a reprimand or censure. The full House Ethics Committee opted to publish the investigative report as a means of public reproval. 
 
Nonetheless, the House Ethics Committee stated that Whitfield “failed to take proper care to avoid violations of the applicable rules.”
 
“A Member’s mistaken belief in their compliance with the rules does not excuse a violation of those rules,” the investigative subcommittee’s report concluded. 
 
Whitfield has maintained that he introduced and co-sponsored legislation regarding animal welfare, ranging from protections for horses to establishing dog training programs for veterans with post-traumatic stress, out of his own volition.
 
The investigation highlighted a bill introduced by Whitfield in 2013 to prevent the illegal practice of “soring” horses. Soring involves using chemicals to make horses’ hooves hurt upon touching the ground to accentuate their gait for horse shows.
 
Whitfield then decided to set up meetings with horse protection advocates and member offices as a way to accumulate more co-sponsors for building a coalition to pass the bill.
 
While Whitfield’s staffers said that their efforts to set up the meetings only came from their boss’s instructions, the Ethics investigation found that Humane Society officials were involved in the strategy.
 
Humane Society employees wrote to Whitfield’s scheduler to request meetings for specific members, for instance, and received updates about the meetings.
 
The investigation’s report noted that Whitfield’s wife kept in contact with his staff. In one message, his scheduler made a list of Republican members of the House Energy Commerce Committee “we have not yet met with” and asked Whitfield’s wife to “[p]lease let me know if you would like me to reach out to them about a meeting.”
 
Whitfield’s chief of staff also kept Harriman updated on meetings with a senator.
 
And in 2012, Harriman emailed her husband’s then-legislative director about two amendments on a sportsmen’s bill to expand recreational hunting, fishing and shooting. Two amendments were offered by then-Reps. Gary Peters and Rush Holt regarding the importation of polar bear trophies and banning hunting in areas of the National Park System.
 
Shortly before the House voted on those amendments, Harriman wrote to the legislative director: “please be sure Ed votes FOR the Peters amendment today (banning polar bear imports and hunting in Natl Parks.) Ed voted this way last time.” The legislative director responded with, “OK.”
 
Whitfield ultimately voted against both amendments. 
 
“I am not proud of the vote that I made on the Peters amendment or the other one either, Holt. But I tell you, I capitulated to the pressure I was receiving from the sportsmen’s groups and the NRA in my district ... So that is why I voted against it,” he told the investigative Ethics subcommittee. 
 
The investigation further found that Harriman urged Whitfield’s staff to ask for changes in a bill introduced by then-Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) creating a pilot program to see if veterans with post-traumatic stress would see improved symptoms by training service dogs. Whitfield had co-sponsored the measure.
 
Harriman asked the then-legislative director if he could ask Grimm’s staff to delete two words in the bill. The staffer replied that a change would have to occur at a committee markup.
 
“Yes, I was assuming the changes would be made in markup,” Harriman responded. 
 
Whitfield announced last September, months after the investigation became public, that he will retire at the end of this year after serving since 1995.