The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) has voted unanimously to recommend the House Committee on Ethics further investigate Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY).  Whitfield’s wife, Connie Harriman-Whitfield is a lobbyist for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, an arm of the Humane Society of the United States.  The ethics inquiry centers around her lobbying of Congressman Whitfield on HSUS bills and using his office to lobby other Members of Congress.

A key to HSUS and Whitfield’s support for the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act was Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL).  Yoho met with members of the Walking Horse industry in February 2014 along with Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) and Whitfield.  Yoho assured industry representatives that if the HSUS had anything to do with the PAST Act he would not be sponsoring the bill.  Yoho, a veterinarian, assured them that it was an industry and veterinarian supported bill.

However, in information released as part of the OCE ethics inquiry, emails document that Yoho either knew of HSUS and Connie Harriman-Whitfield’s involvement or she purposely misled Congressman Yoho about her employment or involvement with HSUS.  In an email on October 19, 2013 to her colleagues at HSUS, Harriman-Whitfield writes:

“I think HSUS can put this over the top but only by targeting certain members.  To pass this in the House we need at least 50 more Republican co-sponsors.  Sadly, HSUS is anathema to the majority of them.  Example:  we have a good shot of getting the Republican Study Group (RSG)( app’x 50 extreme conservative members) to support the bill.  Yoho, who is one of them, has prepared a video to show the RSG.  And I have prepared a Dear Colleague letter for Yoho.  BUT*****Yoho told Cong Whitfield and me that the HSUS is evil because “They want to give ALL animals the exact same rights that humans have.”  He HATES HSUS.  If we allow him to sway the RSG, however, the bill is assured of passage.  That is the delicate tightrope we walk.”

She went on to reiterate her and Rep. Whitfield’s misleading strategy to gain Republican support.  “With Republicans, Ed and I emphasize that it is an industry-backed bill…we don’t even mention animal welfare groups.”

During the OCE’s questioning of Mrs. Whitfield, her answer didn't match the email exchange regarding her involvement with Congressman Yoho.  When they asked about the meeting she and Congressman Whitfield had with Congressman Yoho, she answered, “Yoho was saying to Ed, we have to pass this, because otherwise the Humane Society is going to be all over us, and did you know the Humane Society wants animals to have the same rights that humans have, I am standing there listening to this, and that – and he – that’s why I know that part.  And he told Ed about the video he had prepared.  I never prepared a direct (sic) colleague letter for Yoho.

Despite repeated attempts to speak with the Congressman regarding Harriman-Whitfield’s statement that she prepared his dear colleague letter, Congressman Yoho chose not to comment.  Communications Director, Brian Kaveney would only state that Connie Whitfield didn’t prepare the dear colleague but that the Congressman’s staff prepared it.  

Congressman Yoho’s staff requested questions be submitted in email form, but after reading those questions chose not to comment on any other question besides the author of the dear colleague letter.  The Congressman would not comment on whether he knew of the HSUS involvement at the February meeting when he stated it was not an HSUS bill despite his correspondence with HSUS about the bill four months prior.

Ironically, the stated purpose of the Republican Study Group is the following:

“The Republican Study Committee is a group of House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives. The Republican Study Committee is dedicated to a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government, a strong national defense, the protection of individual and property rights, and the preservation of traditional family values.”  

Congressman Yoho is a member of the Republican Study Group.  The PAST Act, of which Congressman Yoho is a co-sponsor and staunch supporter, would turn complete regulation and enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to the federal government and eliminate the current industry self-regulatory system that works with federal government oversight.  This would seem to be in direct contradiction to the stated goal of the Republican Study Group.

The Congressman nor his office would release the video he prepared and despite assuring WHR they would send the dear colleague letter, the letter has not been sent.  The RSG was contacted but did not respond to inquiries from Walking Horse Report.