U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield generally flies under the radar. But his connections and financial ties to a lobbyist have generated unwelcome publicity for him before.
Whitfield’s wife, Connie Harriman-Whitfield, is a paid lobbyist for the Humane Society’s Legislative Fund.
Last December, Politico explored Congressman Whitfield’s support of controversial animal-welfare legislation promoted by his wife and the Humane Society. The Legislative Fund has donated at least $8,000 to Whitfield since 2011, when his wife began lobbying for it.
Whitfield denied wrongdoing, or even an appearance of impropriety, and told Politico that anyone who disagreed could file an ethics complaint against him.
(Read KyCIR's investigative report on Whitfield: How a Congressman, His Wife and a Lobbyist Mixed Politics, Personal Finances)
Whitfield and lobbyist Juanita Duggan, who for more than a decade were partners in a property deal at a posh West Virginia resort, also have had ties to a group that provided travel to exotic places for questionable legislative purposes.
A 2006 report by Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group, found that between 2000 and 2004, the congressman and his wife took trips to Scotland, Italy, Hungary and California at a cost of $34,465. The trips, which also included lobbyists, were paid for by the Ripon Educational Fund, an affiliate of the Ripon Society.
Between 1997 and mid-2005, Whitfield received more than $78,000 from Ripon board members and affiliated political-action committees, the Public Citizen report said.
Whitfield has been a longtime member of the society’s “honorary congressional advisory board.” Duggan was a Ripon Society board member from 2000 to 2009.
In January, The New York Times caught up with Whitfield in Vail, Colorado, as he and several other members of Congress hobnobbed with prominent lobbyists as part of a “Winter Escape to Vail Weekend.”
Among the lobbyists present was one from PPL Corp., a Pennsylvania-based energy company and a major donor to Whitfield. Only days after the Vail trip, The Times reported, Whitfield introduced legislation that would allow utilities like PPL to build new coal-burning power plants, overriding environmental restrictions recently imposed by the Obama administration.
The Times story quoted Whitfield as telling a room packed with lobbyists: “The most important thing is we want all of you to have fun, because I know we’re going to have a lot of snow tomorrow. Thank you again for your support, and continue your celebrating tonight.”
Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at email@example.com or (502) 814.6533.