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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