Seat on Energy & Commerce panel helped determine donations to Whitfield
By: Ashley Balcerzak
The panel didn’t recommend punishment for Whitfield when it concluded its probe into whether he granted special access to his wife, a lobbyist with the Humane Society Legislative Fund. But its July report said the 11-term lawmaker “did not take sufficient care to familiarize himself with the applicable rules and other standards of conduct, or to ensure that his office complied with them, and…the resulting violations were significant and numerous enough to warrant a reproval by the Committee.”
The investigation began after Politico published a story in 2013 on Whitfield’s introduction of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act and his wife’s role as a lobbyist pushing the bill on behalf of the Humane Society. The measure would ban practices in horse shows that alter a horse’s step.
A former Democrat who was voted into Congress in the Republican wave election of 1994, raised a total of $12.9 million over the course of his career. Over the past 24 years, Whitfield has drawn the most funds from PACs and employees of AT&T Inc ($110,000), the National Cable & Telecommunications Association ($89,000), Kentucky-based wine and spirits seller Brown-Forman Corp. ($88,000), the National Association of Realtors ($87,000) and freight company CSX Corp. ($86,000), where Whitfield was once a vice president. A majority of his funds, 62 percent during his career, came from PACs.
Doctors and others working in areas that are part of the Health Professionals industry have been most supportive of Whitfield ($1.4 million); the Electric Utilities ($770,000) and Oil & Gas fields ($561,000) have also been extremely helpful to him. That’s not so surprising given his committee assignments: Whitfield chairs the Energy and Power subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and also has a seat on the Health and Environment and Economy subcommittees. According to GovTrack data, the largest share of bills he sponsored, or 39 percent, were health-related.
Whitfield ramped up his fundraising in his last two elections, bringing in $1.9 million each year, even though his opponent both years, Charles Hatchett, failed to amass enough money to be required to file a campaign finance report with the Federal Election Commission.
Whitfield’s leadership PAC, fittingly — or perhaps ironically, given his ethics troubles — named Thoroughbred PAC, peaked in fundraising in 2012 with $402,000.
The 73-year-old congressman announced he wouldn’t run for re-election last year, so new candidates stepped up to the plate. Republican James Comer, Kentucky’s former agriculture commissioner, faces off with Democrat Samuel Gaskins, a former officer in the military. For now, Comer significantly leads Gaskins in fundraising, bringing in $826,000 to Gaskins’ $7,000.
“Comer clearly has the advantage of name recognition after his 2015 gubernatorial bid, coming up just short of the nomination,” said D. Stephen Voss, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action have also shown their support for Comer with $106,000 in outside spending. Republican Super PAC, the final outside spender active in District 1 and backed by Murray Energy Corporation, shelled out $79,000 to support Michael Pape, a former aide to Whitfield who lost in the GOP primary.
Gaskins has not seen any outside help yet, and his chances of prevailing in November are slim.
“Gaskins is not the sort of candidate a party normally would recruit if they thought they could win a congressional district,” Voss said. “A candidate without political experience can pull an upset every once in a while, with the right message at the right time, but that sort of thing is rare.”
What happens to the cash in Whitfield’s campaign account when he leaves, which as of June 30 stood at $1.7 million? He can’t take it for personal use, but can donate the funds to charity, other PACs or campaigns, or let them sit in case he wants to run again. This personal use rule, however, does not apply to the $168,000 in Whitfield’s leadership PAC funds, which is a sore point with some observers every time a lawmaker leaves Congress.
“The FEC has recommended to Congress each session to close that loophole and it still exists,” said Christian Hilland, FEC deputy press officer.
Originally published at www.opensecrets.org on September 1, 2016.