The House Ethics Committee has found that U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield violated House rules when he didn't prevent contact between his staff and his wife, a lobbyist for an animal rights organization. The committee found that Constance Harriman-Whitfield gained "special privileges" because of her access to the staff.

But the committee found that Whitfield, a Republican from Western Kentucky's 1st District who is retiring at the end of the year, didn't intend to break the rules and therefore said that there is no need to sanction him with penalties such as reprimand or censure.

In a long response, Whitfield noted that didn't knowingly violate the rules and that the committee issued the least severe penalty. "It is the first time the Committee has issued a formal ruling on the actual meaning of ‘lobbying contacts.’  A 'reproval' is the mildest possible response by the committee," he said.

The committee report released Thursday said Harriman-Whitfield repeatedly lobbied his office on behalf of her client, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the lobbying arm of the Humane Society of the United States. She also worked with his staff on legislation that prohibited horse soring, the practice of injuring a horse's legs or hoofs to produce an exaggerated gait, that the group was pushing and that Whitfield sponsored.

“Representative Whitfield did not take sufficient care to familiarize himself with the applicable rules and other standards of conduct, or to ensure that his office complied with them, and that the resulting violations were significant and numerous enough to warrant a reproval by the Committee,” an investigative report concluded.

According to the report, Whitfield allowed Harriman-Whitfield to contact his staff between 2011 and 2015 about legislative issues, all while working as a lobbyist. According to the report, the committee questioned Whitfield's claim that he didn't even know his wife was a registered lobbyist until October of 2013.

Harriman-Whitfield's involvement "took many forms, from Ms. Harriman's participation in the planning and strategy of arranging meetings between other members and outside advocates (of the anti-soring measure) to directly advocating that Representative Whitfield vote for certain animal welfare bills or amendments," the report said.

Furthermore, the report said Harriman-Whitfield worked with Whitfield's staff to alter language in bills.

Whitfield was found to have violated two House rules as well as the Code of Ethics for Government Service. One House rule specifically says that members must prohibit staffs  "from making any lobbying contact ... with that individual's spouse, if the spouse is a lobbyist."

But the report says that Whitfield's "violations were not caused by any corrupt or willful intent to violate House Rules or other standards of conduct."

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