But Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission says “No problem”
WASHINGTON D.C., HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania––The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission on November 18, 2014 rejected a complaint brought by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness against Pennsylvania State House of Representatives majority leader Mike Turzai.
Opined the Ethics Commission, “Any action by the commission would be barred by the Speech & Debate Clause, as contained within the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.”
The Ethics Commission cited as precedent a 1987 ruling in the case of a stockbroker who continued to buy and sell stocks after being elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature. The case appears to have no obvious or direct relationship to the subject of the SHARK complaint, the action of Turzai in accepting $3,000 from the political arm of an organization formed to defend pigeon shoots, three days before preventing a bill to ban pigeon shoots from coming up for a vote.
Believed to have been almost certain to pass, the bill had already cleared the Pennsylvania state senate by a vote of 36-12, and Governor Tom Corbett had pledged to sign it into law if it reached his desk.
The Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission response again raised the question of whether taking money allegedly given to influence a vote should be considered to be of less ethical concern than a office holder helping a spouse who is a lobbyist to arrange meetings with other office holders––and suggested once again that the largest factor involved in whether an ethics complaint against an elected official advances may be the size and affluence of the interest groups involved.
Comparing the progress of ethics complaints originating recently at the state level with that of older complaints originating at the federal level is self-evidently awkward. But, while the SHARK complaint against Turzai was dismissed out of hand, ethics complaints brought against Kentucky member of the U.S. House of Representatives Ed Whitfield by advocates for walking horse breeders and trainers are advancing.
“Acting on the recommendations of the investigative unit, the House Ethics Committee on November 10, 2014 said it would extend its review of the lobbying connections between Whitfield and his wife, Connie Harriman-Whitfield,” reported James R. Carroll of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
Money & access
Whitfield is not accused of taking money to influence votes, just of helping Harriman-Whitfield to find opportunities to speak with other Members of Congress about subjects they might be asked to vote upon.
According to the SHARK complaint against Turzai, he “was given a large donation from a political action committee,” the Flyers Victory Fund, “three days before a bill that the PAC was against was supposed to be voted on…The legislation in question was HB 1750, which would have banned live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania,” elaborated SHARK.
The Flyers Victory Fund, SHARK explained, “is the electioneering arm of the Pennsylvania Flyers Association. The sole reason for the existence of the Pennsylvania Flyers Association, and the Flyers Victory Fund, is the protection of live pigeon shoots. Therefore,” SHARK contends, “the only logical reason why they donated $3,000 to Turzai on October 17, 2014 was to influence Turzai on the specific legislation that was to be voted on October 20, 2014. Turzai stated he would let legislation to ban pigeon shoots be heard,” SHARK recounted, but then killed the bill by not bringing it up for a vote.
Concluded SHARK, “Section §1103 (c) of the Public Official and Employee Ethics Act states that, “No public official, public employee or nominee or candidate for public office shall solicit or accept anything of monetary value, including a gift, loan, political contribution, reward or promise of future employment, based on any understanding of that public official, public employee or nominee that the vote, official action or judgment of the public official or public employee or nominee or candidate for public office would be influenced thereby.
“We believe the evidence we have provided proves that there was undue influence¬¬––a large campaign donation––and that Mr. Turzai acted because of it. That means he violated the law,” SHARK said.
Whitfield & Whitfield-Harriman
The complaints against U.S. Representative Whitfield were apparently brought first to the U.S. House Ethics Committee in late 2012. “Despite being on notice of the potential ethics issues, Representative Whitfield’s staff continued to have contacts with Representative Whitfield’s wife related to her lobbying,” the Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics reported on November 10, 2014.
The Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics, “an independent, non-partisan unit made up of private citizens, detailed multiple instances between 2001 and 2014 in which the congressman’s wife was involved in as many as 100 meetings with other lawmakers and staffers, sessions set up by Whitfield’s office to discuss various bills that the Kentuckian either was sponsoring or co-sponsoring,’ wrote Carroll of the Courier-Journal. “In some instances, according to e-mails the report quoted, Harriman-Whitfield and her husband met jointly with other lawmakers to discuss legislation she was lobbying on.”
In addition, summarized Carroll, Whitfield-Harriman allegedly “worked with the congressman’s staff in drafting legislation and setting strategy for passing bills.”
Thus, the board found, “There is substantial reason to believe that Representative Whitfield permitted his wife to use his congressional office to advance and facilitate her lobbying activities and the lobbying activities of her employer in violation of House rules and standards of conduct.”
The legislation allegedly involved included bills to protect walking horses, great apes, and puppies produced by commercial breeders.
The House Ethics Committee cautioned that “The mere fact of conducting further review of a referral, and any mandatory disclosure of such further review, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”
Whitfield, a Republican, has represented the First District in Kentucky since 1995. He was re-elected to serve another two-year term on November 4, 2014. Whitfield-Harriman has since 2011 been a registered lobbyist for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the political arm of the Humane Society of the U.S.