Ethics Committee to Investigate Congressman Ed Whitfield, Wife’s Lobbying Work

Connie Harriman-Whitfield, vice chair of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, whispers in her husband's ear, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., during a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, in support of HR 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images

Connie Harriman-Whitfield, vice chair of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, whispers in her husband\’s ear, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., during a press conference on Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2006, in support of HR 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act.

This story has been updated with comments from Whitfield’s office.

A congressional ethics subcommittee has been directed to investigate whether U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield violated House rules in connection with his wife’s lobbying work for The Humane Society of the United States.

The investigative subcommittee will determine whether the Kentucky Republican used his office to benefit himself or his wife, Connie Harriman-Whitfield, and whether he “dispensed special favors or privileges” to her or her organization.

Harriman-Whitfield is senior policy adviser for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, which describes itself as “a separate lobbying affiliate” of The Humane Society of the United States.

The current probe does not appear to address ethical issues raised in a series of stories last summer by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. KyCIR reported that Whitfield, his wife and another lobbyist, Juanita Duggan, had a longstanding financial partnership and joint ownership in property at a West Virginia luxury resort.

(Read: How a Congressman, His Wife and a Lobbyist Mixed Politics, Personal Finances)

The KyCIR investigation found that both Harriman-Whitfield and Duggan lobbied for clients that had legislative business before Whitfield in Congress. While Duggan was involved with them, those clients and the trade associations where she worked donated more than $300,000 to his political campaigns.

Although the House Committee on Ethics cautioned in a statement last Friday that its creation of the investigative subcommittee “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred,” the mere fact that it was established is relatively unusual.

Connie Harriman-Whitfield

Connie Harriman-Whitfield

During the past two years, for example, the Committee on Ethics began or continued work on 89 separate matters, but appointed just four investigative subcommittees. In three of the four cases, the House member under investigation resigned from Congress before the subcommittee concluded its work. Two had pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

In the fourth case, following a 14-month investigation by the subcommittee into alleged misconduct by Alaska Rep. Don Young, the Committee on Ethics found that Young had violated House rules and issued to him what it called a “letter of reproval.”

In response to the announcement of the subcommittee investigation, Whitfield’s office issued a statement saying that he looks forward to “fully cooperating” with it. He added that any allegation his wife “lobbied my office or my staff to convince me to introduce and pass” legislation favored by the Humane Society “is absurd.”

Appointment of the investigative subcommittee follows a November report by the federal Office of Congressional Ethics that determined there was “substantial reason to believe” that Whitfield violated “House rules and standards of conduct” by having lobbying contacts with his wife and by permitting her to have lobbying contacts with his staff.

Harriman-Whitfield repeatedly contacted her husband’s office during the past three years concerning legislation she was supporting, and Whitfield’s staff responded by providing assistance, including scheduling meetings, to further her agenda, according to the OCE inquiry.

The OCE is an independent, non-partisan body charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against House members, officers and making referrals to the Committee on Ethics.

Whitfield, from Hopkinsville, in western Kentucky, easily won re-election last November to an 11th term.

Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at rdunlop@kycir.org or (502) 814.6533.

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