An independent investigation into Kentucky Representative Ed Whitfield found there is “substantial reason to believe” that the legislator unethically facilitated the lobbying efforts of his wife, who is a registered lobbyist for the legislative arm of the Humane Society of the United States.
The House rules prohibit this brand of spousal scheming, explicitly forbidding lawmakers’ staff “from making any lobbying contact…with that individual’s spouse if that spouse is a lobbyist…for the purpose of influencing legislation.” But accusations against Rep. Whitfield contend that the Congressman and his wife violated these guidelines.
According to a report by the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), Connie Harriman-Whitfield allegedly contacted her husband’s congressional staff “on numerous occasions,” scheduling “as many as 100 meetings with other congressional offices” through his staff. The 26-page OCE report quotes email exchanges in which Harriman-Whitfield appears to use her unique access for calculated professional gain. In one such email, for example, Harriman-Whitfield details the legislative advantages of her marital situation: “Neither HSUS or HSLF [the legislative arm of HSUS] will be able to do well setting up meetings with Republican offices…That is why Ed’s office was so crucial in setting up meetings between Republicans and third parties.” According to the Board Report, this use of “Ed’s office” was particularly important in gaining Republican support for HSUS-backed anti-horse soring legislation—a bill sponsored, incidentally, by Rep. Whitfield.
Other emails appear to also implicate HSUS leadership as complicit cohorts in Harriman-Whitfield’s allegedly unethical lobbying activity. In one message, for instance, the HSUS Federal Affairs Director requests that Harriman-Whitfield ask her husband to co-sponsor a bill supported by HSUS. This email suggests that HSUS actively participated in the alleged unethical lobbying—a degree of involvement reinforced by another email in which HSUS Vice President contacts the scheduler directly to arrange a series of legislative meetings.
The Board elaborates: “Although [Rep. Whitfield’s] Scheduler told the OCE that she arranged the meetings at the request of Representative Whitfield, emails from HSUS Vice President and Representative Whitfield’s Wife indicate that many meetings were scheduled at the request of HSUS.”
Despite this alleged involvement—or perhaps because of it— HSUS President Wayne “I don’t love animals” Pacelle issued a public statement defending Rep. Whitfield and challenging the motives of his complainants. Pacelle insists: “[G]roups who brought the Ethics Committee complaint are engaged in torturing horses, and have tried to place obstacles in the way of passing the legislation.”
But other evidence suggests that opponents of Whitfield’s horse legislation aren’t the only ones with reason to be concerned about the alleged activity. In an email to the Congressman, Rep. Whitfield’s Chief of Staff explained that the conduct of Rep. Whitfield and his wife was raising red flags on Capitol Hill. The Chief reported having a “very uncomfortable conversation” with another lawmaker’s office over the “optics” of arranging meetings for a registered lobbyist.
Ultimately, regardless of who issued the complaint—or why they chose to do so—this hectoring is just Pacelle trying to change the subject. Unethical activity would be unethical activity regardless of the complainant. The OCE investigation concluded that the evidence of unethical lobbying activity is persuasive enough to warrant an extended review. The Board was unanimous: All six members recommended that the OCE continue its evaluation of the allegations.