Congressman Ed Whitfield defends interaction between his official actions and his wife’s lobbying.
Ethics experts said that the Whitfields could be violating House rules through their joint lobbying for legislation, although these experts cautioned that it isn’t a cut-and-dried case.
“If it were Boeing and they were doing this, it would be a really big deal,” said Melanie Sloan, head of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. While Sloan applauded the Whitfields for disclosing their activities — something that has been one of the major problems in other ethics cases — she said the joint lobbying of members and staffers is troubling.
“I can’t see a flat-out ethics violation, but I can certainly see it creates an appearance problem, and it would seem like the better course would be for them not to be lobbying together; that seems inappropriate to me,” Sloan said.
Veteran ethics lawyer Stanley Brand said the activity does raise questions because lawmakers aren’t supposed to gain personal benefit from their official duties.
“It’s not that easy to get from those general standards to a violation,” Brand said. “There have been cases before where spouses have been registered lobbyists and their husbands or wives are on committees where those companies have interest and that’s never been enough to get you to a violation.”
Whitfield is hardly alone when it comes to lawmakers with relatives who lobby. Dozens of congressional relatives are registered lobbyists, and oftentimes, lawmakers with family ties on issues weigh in on legislative proposals. Congress cracked down on ethics reforms in 2007, banning spouses from lobbying a member’s personal office staff and the lawmaker. Other lawmakers whose relatives have lobbied include: the wife of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as a lobbyist at Kraft Foods and Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), whose father — former Rep. Bud Shuster — served as a contract lobbyist.
Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle defended Harriman-Whitfield’s involvement pushing the horse legislation.
“I think sometimes when folks look at issues like this, they nitpick on it as a conflict of interest and I just want to say, No. 1, there is a real difference in working for a coal company or an oil company or any big business, pharmaceutical company and working for a nonprofit organization where there is no financial incentive to gain as an institution,” Pacelle said. “The track record of both Connie and Ed is deep involvement in animal welfare far preceding Connie’s involvement in the Humane Society. She came to the Humane Society because she was already very, very involved on these issues personally.”
Further, Pacelle said that he meets with Whitfield to discuss legislative issues, not Harriman-Whitfield. Pacelle said he didn’t see anything wrong with Whitfield and his wife personally lobbying his colleagues together on the issue of animal cruelty.
“It’d be a shame if our society didn’t allow spouses to advocate for ending poverty in the world, or advancing other core values of our society. I’m not sure what she’s supposed to do, just be mute on these issues with his colleagues,” Pacelle said.
Harriman-Whitfield has a history of advocating against animal cruelty long before joining the Humane Society Legislative Fund in 2007. As assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks for the Department of the Interior under President George H.W. Bush, Harriman-Whitfield is credited with playing a major role in instituting the U.S. and worldwide ban on the elephant ivory trade.
Harriman-Whitfield now serves as senior policy adviser for the Humane Society Legislative Fund and has been engaged in federal lobbying since early 2011. During this two-year period, the HSLF spent $90,000 on in-house lobbying activities, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports. An outside lobbying firm billed the organization an additional $60,000 so far this year, according to another report.
Whitfield’s annual financial disclosure report does not include his wife’s compensation from the Humane Society.
For his part, Whitfield said his standing with the Humane Society hasn’t always been good, although he provided POLITICO with a long list of legislation he has offered dealing with animal welfare during his time in Congress.
“Sometimes I’ve had a good record with them and sometimes I have not had a good record with them, but I’ve been involved in a multitude of issues, so from my perspective there absolutely is no violation of ethics laws and if someone thinks there is they can file a complaint,” Whitfield said, noting that he has a 62 percent rating in the group’s 2013 midterm score card.
Source: Politico by John Bresnahan and Anna Palmer