A House committee on Friday announced an inquiry into a possible ethics violation by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky.
The statement followed an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, which concluded there was “substantial reason to believe” that Whitfield had committed one or more ethics violations.
The House Committee on Ethics’ brief news release noted that it had reached no conclusion about whether a violation had in fact occurred, and it did not disclose the nature of Whitfield’s alleged misconduct.
Its announcement follows reports by WFPL’s Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting that showed Whitfield, his wife, and a nationally-known lobbyist had a joint financial interest in residential property at a West Virginia luxury resort, from 2003 through 2013.
KyCIR found that Whitfield’s wife — a lobbyist for the Humane Society’s Legislative Fund — and lobbyist Juanita Duggan both advocated for clients that had business before Whitfield in Congress.
The private business transaction among the three had never been revealed publicly and neither Whitfield nor Duggan would provide documents to KyCIR showing who paid what for the property and subsequent costs associated with it.
Ethics experts said the joint ownership raised both ethical and legal questions, because House rules generally prohibit members from accepting gifts from lobbyists.
Whitfield, a Republican who represents Kentucky’s First Congressional District, issued a press release Friday suggesting that the ethics complaint was generated by groups or individuals opposing him “for my work on behalf of animals.”
That was an apparent reference to critics of Whitfield and his wife, Connie Harriman-Whitfield. The Legislative Fund, for which she lobbies, has championed at least one controversial bill that Whitfield actively supports.
The Legislative Fund has donated at least $8,000 to Whitfield since 2011, when his wife began lobbying for it.
Whitfield’s statement said he was a “reluctant participant” in the ethics investigation and that he would have no further comment.
The Office of Congressional Ethics is an independent, nonpartisan body charged with probing allegations of misconduct by House members, officers and employees.
On June 10, it forwarded its findings of a possible ethics violation by Whitfield to the House committee. The committee then had 45 days — until today — to either make the OCE’s findings public or extend its own inquiry for another 45 days.
The committee opted for the extension, and will announce its decision on November 10.
The House Committee on Ethics includes five members of each party and has a non-partisan staff. Under House rules, the committee’s jurisdiction includes administering various regulations pertaining to travel, gifts, financial disclosure and other matters; issuing advisory opinions; and investigating potential ethics violations.
KyCIR Reporter R.G. Dunlop can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (502) 814.6533.