WASHINGTON - The lead sponsor of a bill to strengthen federal law against soring Tennessee Walking Horses said Monday an ethics complaint against him contains bogus charges but may succeed in derailing the legislation.
Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., in a conference call with reporters, said a complaint filed against him with the Committee on Standards of Conduct for Public Officials, more commonly called the House Ethics Committee, involves charges he allowed his wife to improperly lobby him about the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act.
Connie Harriman Whitfield is a senior policy adviser for the Humane Society of the United States.
"She did not lobby me on it," Whitfield said, adding that his interest in the issue goes back at least a decade, long before his wife's association with the Humane Society, one of the major interest groups supporting the bill.
The Ethics Committee would not release details but confirmed Monday it is investigating a complaint against Whitfield.
While the complaint makes charges about his wife's lobbying, Whitfield said, "It's not about any money, any payoff."
The ethics complaint arises as Whitfield has been talking to House Republican leaders about getting a floor vote for the PAST Act, which would beef up federal inspections of horse shows and outlaw various "action devices" used in soring.
Widely seen as cruel, soring involves using caustic chemicals, chains, special pads and other devices on a walking horse's legs and hooves to inflict pain and create an artificially high step, referred to as the "Big Lick." Whitfield's bill has 305 House co-sponsors -- 70 percent of the chamber -- as well as the endorsement of former Tennessee Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn. An identical Senate version has 57 co-sponsors, three short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.
But the Kentucky lawmaker acknowledged the ethics complaint could poison the bill's chances of getting a vote.
"I think there is a possibility it will derail the PAST Act," he said.
Whitfield added he's sure that was the point of the complaint, as opponents watched it continuing to gain momentum.
He said the complaint originated with numerous individuals, many from Tennessee, who are involved in the walking horse industry and oppose the bill.
In a statement, the Kentucky lawmaker listed them as Jim Cortner, Jamie Hankins, Mike Inman, Doyle Meadows, Duke Thorson, Terry Dotson, Gayle Holcomb, Bruce MacDonald, Mickey McCormick, James Linton Griffith, Jeffrey Howard, Lee Wall McGartland and Buddy Stasney.
"These individuals have a cumulative total of 53 violations of a federal law called the Horse Protection Act, and a number of those have occurred this year following the filing of the complaint," Whitfield said.
The Horse Protection Act of 1970 was the original anti-soring law.
Several of those Whitfield listed hold prominent positions in associations fighting the PAST Act. Inman, for instance, is CEO of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
Inman at first denied involvement in filing the complaint. Later he said, "I did sign a draft of a possible complaint. I don't know if it's been filed."
Whitfield also blamed Jeff Speaks, lobbyist for the Performance Show Horse Association.
The Kentucky lawmaker said "this group of people have resorted to these types of tactics because they cannot win their argument based on evidence."
Meanwhile, Whitfield acknowledged the possibility of a second ethics complaint being filed against him, one based in part on his and his wife's partnership with a registered lobbyist in a 2003 West Virginia real estate purchase. He denied any wrongdoing related to it as well.
Whitfield said the second complaint may be anonymous. "In Washington, anyone can file an ethics complaint," he said, adding has not yet received any official notification yet.
In a July 17 story, the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting said the Whitfields purchased land near the Greenbrier, a resort in West Virginia, with lobbyist Juanita Duggan, whose clients frequently donated to Whitfield's re-election campaigns and had stakes in issues before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Whitfield is a longstanding member.
The investigative story alleged no illegal behavior on Whitfield's part but quoted several ethics experts as saying Whitfield's business dealings with a lobbyist created the appearance of possible impropriety.
Whitfield said he "would be happy" to release documents relating to the West Virginia transaction "at the appropriate time."