House Ethics Panel Confirms Investigations of Rush, Whitfield

Whitfield: Poised to pounce on EPA.
Billy House
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Billy House
July 25, 2014, 10:33 a.m.

Without provid­ing de­tails, House Eth­ics watch­dogs con­firmed Thursday they are re­view­ing sep­ar­ate mat­ters in­volving wheth­er Reps. Bobby Rush of Illinois and Ed Whit­field of Ken­tucky vi­ol­ated House rules.

Rush, a Demo­crat, him­self ac­know­ledged in a pub­lished re­port in April in the Chica­go Sun-Times that he was un­der scru­tiny over spend­ing from his cam­paign fund and the hand­ling of a $1 mil­lion grant.

And pub­lished ac­counts, be­gin­ning with a story late last year by Politico, have ques­tioned Re­pub­lic­an Whit­field’s sup­port of con­tro­ver­sial an­im­al-wel­fare le­gis­la­tion pushed by his wife, a re­gistered lob­by­ist with the Hu­mane So­ci­ety of the United States. The group’s le­gis­lat­ive fund has donated at least $8,000 to Whit­field since 2011, when his wife began lob­by­ing for it, ac­cord­ing to the pub­lished re­ports.

In a state­ment, Whit­field re­spon­ded that he was “dis­ap­poin­ted that people with a fin­an­cial in­terest in pending le­gis­la­tion have filed a com­plaint against me for my work on be­half of an­im­als.” He did not ex­plain fur­ther, but thanked the com­mit­tee for not­ing in its an­nounce­ment that ‘“the mere fact of a re­fer­ral … does not it­self in­dic­ate that any vi­ol­a­tion has oc­curred, or re­flect any judg­ment on be­half of the Com­mit­tee.”

“As a re­luct­ant par­ti­cipant in this pro­cess, I, too, will re­frain from mak­ing any fur­ther pub­lic com­ments un­til such time as the Com­mit­tee de­term­ines pub­lic state­ments are ap­pro­pri­ate,” Whit­field said.

Fri­day’s an­nounce­ment from the House Eth­ics Com­mit­tee was the first of­fi­cial con­firm­a­tion that he and Rush were both be­ing scru­tin­ized by the pan­el. The joint state­ment by the com­mit­tee chair­man, Mike Con­away, and the pan­el’s top Demo­crat, Linda Sanc­hez, said the cases were both re­ferred by the Of­fice of Con­gres­sion­al Eth­ics on June 10.

A spokes­wo­man for the OCE, which serves as an in­de­pend­ent watch­dog that serves as an ini­tial vet­ter of eth­ics com­plaints, would not com­ment on its find­ings be­hind the re­fer­rals, provided in re­ports to the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee.

Un­der House rules, the Eth­ics Com­mit­tee now has un­til Nov. 10 to de­cide wheth­er it will ex­pand the two re­views by em­pan­el­ing spe­cial in­vest­ig­at­ive sub­com­mit­tees. These sub­pan­els would form­ally con­sider wheth­er the two law­makers broke House rules and, if so, pos­sibly re­com­mend pun­ish­ment. 

Neither Whit­field’s nor Rush’s of­fice had any im­me­di­ate com­ment Fri­day.

But news of the Rush probe came after the a Sun-Times/Bet­ter Gov­ern­ment As­so­ci­ation in­vest­ig­a­tion late last year re­por­ted that he used cam­paign funds for the Be­loved Com­munity Chris­ti­an Church, where he is a min­is­ter and that he did not re­port rent pay­ments for his cam­paign of­fice, pos­sible eth­ics vi­ol­a­tions.

The Sun-Times/BGA re­port also ques­tioned what had be­come of a $1 mil­lion grant that Rush helped se­cure from tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions firm SBC to launch a tech cen­ter in Chica­go. The re­port said it was un­clear where the money went, and that the tech cen­ter has not ma­ter­i­al­ized. Rush was quoted as telling the news­pa­per “every penny of that money went to­ward pro­grams for the Engle­wood com­munity.”

Whit­field, in the Politico story in Decem­ber, de­fen­ded the in­ter­ac­tion between his con­gres­sion­al du­ties and his wife’s lob­by­ing—and said that any­one who doesn’t like it can file an eth­ics com­plaint against him.

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