House Committee Rules on Rep. Ed Whitfield Ethics Probe

The U.S. House of Representatives' Ethics Committee has found that Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY) violated House rules by allowing his wife to lobby in favor of anti-soring legislation, including the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, but that Whitfield's breech of the ethics rules was unintentional.

In 2013, Whitfield introduced the PAST Act with the goal of amending the Horse Protection Act of 1970, which forbids soring. If passed, the PAST Act would have forbid trainers from using action devices and performance packages, increased federal penalties for anyone who sores a horse, and required the USDA to assign a licensed inspector if a Tennessee Walking Horse show management indicates its intent to hire one. That legislation died in committee.

In 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives Ethics Committee said a complaint had been lodged against Whitfield alleging that Whitfield's wife, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) consultant Constance Harriman Whitfield, unfairly influenced the congressman about the legislation.

Whitfield denied the allegations.

The complaint was forwarded to the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which later voted to continue the probe into its allegations. Later, OCE board members voted to continue the committee's review of the case and to forward it to the U.S. House of Representatives' Ethics Committee.

On July 14, the House ethics committee found that Whitfield "failed to prohibit lobbying contacts" between his staff and his wife, but that his actions were unintentional.

In a written statement, Whitfield said he never viewed his wife's conduct as lobbying.

“As the Ethics Committee found in its report, I never thought or believed that my wife was trying to influence me or my staff to pass my own legislation,” Whitfield opined. “Sadly, the Ethics Committee decided a lack of intent to influence is irrelevant and that mere contact with my office constitutes a violation.”

At the same time, Whitfield commended the committee for bringing the matter to a close and said he would not accept “any suggestion by the practitioners of horse soring that I operated out of anything but the best of motives.”

Roy Williams, executive director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, was unavailable for comment.

Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and chief executive officer, was pleased that Whitfield's actions were determined to been unintentional and “not improperly benefiting any party. “From the start of his public service, and more than a decade before Connie Harriman became professionally involved with the Humane Society of the United States, Congressman Whitfield has been a leader on a wide range of animal welfare legislation, particularly horse protection,” Pacelle said.

Last year, Representative Ted S. Yoho (R-FL) reintroduced the PAST Act into the U.S. House of Repre

sentatives. While that legislation remains pending, Whitfield said he will retire his Houses seat at the end of this Congressional session.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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