An independent ethics investigation concluded that there is "substantial reason to believe" that Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield, the lead sponsor of anti-soring legislation opposed by a Tennessee Walking Horse group, had improper lobbying contacts with his wife in connection with legislation he sponsored and co-sponsored in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Acting on the recommendations of the investigative unit, the House Ethics Committee said Monday it would extend its review of the lobbying connections between Whitfield and his wife, Connie Harriman-Whitfield.
"The committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee," the ethics panel said in a statement.
Whitfield, who was re-elected to the House on Nov. 4, declined to comment. A Republican, he has represented Kentucky's 1st District since 1995. His wife has been a registered lobbyist since 2011 with the Humane Society Legislative Fund, part of the Humane Society of the United States.
The report of the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent, nonpartisan unit made up of private citizens, detailed multiple instances between 2001 and 2014 in which the congressman's wife was involved in as many as 100 meetings with other lawmakers and staffers, sessions set up by Whitfield's office to discuss various bills that the Kentuckian either was sponsoring or co-sponsoring.
"...There is a substantial reason to believe that Representative Whitfield had lobbying contacts with his wife and permitted his wife to have lobbying contacts with his staff in violation of House rules and standards of conduct," the board report said.
"The Board recommends that the Committee on Ethics further review the allegations concerning the granting of special favors or privileges because there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Whitfield permitted his wife to use his congressional office to advance and facilitate her lobbying activities and the lobbying activities of her employer in violation of House rules and standards of conduct," the report said.
In some instances, according to e-mails the report quoted, Harriman-Whitfield and her husband met jointly with other lawmakers to discuss legislation she was lobbying on.
Whitfield's wife also worked with the congressman's staff in drafting legislation and setting strategy for passing bills, according to the ethics board.
"Would you please try to set up a meeting with the Senator some time next week? The subject is Tennessee Walking Horses," Harriman-Whitfield allegedly e-mailed her husband's then-scheduler in May 2012, the report said.
In all, a dozen bills were involved, dealing with a variety of issues, including the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses, shutting down puppy mills, protecting the great apes and other issues.