LOUISVILLE - U.S. Rep Ed Whitfield said his lobbyist wife did not improperly spur him to introduce a bill concerning the possible abuse of Tennessee walking horses and there's no basis for an ethics complaint against him.
Whitfield said in a conference call with reporters on Monday that he had planned to file the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act - the PAST Act - regardless of the role his wife played with her employer.
His wife, Constance Harriman Whitfield, is a lobbyist with the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
The U.S. House Ethics Committee notified Whitfield on June 10 that it received a referral from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.
That independent office makes referrals to the House Ethics Committee on which cases warrant further investigation.
"It's not about any money. It's not about any payoffs," Whitfield said.
"It's not about taking a bribe or anything like that."
Tennessee walking horses are shown throughout the United States. Soring - using an irritant to cause burning or blistering of the horses' legs in order to accentuate their gaits - occurs only in a few areas such as Tennessee and Kentucky.
Whitfield's proposal came after a 2010 Report of the Inspector General at the United States Department of Agriculture. In that report, the Inspector General concluded that the current program for inspecting Tennessee Walking Horses for soring abuse is not adequate because the inspectors are hired from participants in the shows.
The proposal has drawn opposition from the Performance Show Horse Association and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who is sponsoring a competing bill.
Blackburn has argued that the show-horse industry's compliance with the current ban on soring is around 97 percent, thereby making any tougher inspections unnecessary.
"This legislation brings excessive regulatory burdens on the walking horse industry and could potentially eliminate the entire industry and thus the entire breed," Blackburn has said.
Blackburn's office did not immediately return a message seeking comment Monday.
Whitfield said it appears the ethics complaint against him is directed at derailing the PAST Act, which has drawn 305 co-sponsors in the House and 57 for a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.
"They've developed this strategy to create an additional issue to deal with," Whitfield said.
For now, the bill is being discussed by House leaders and committee chairman to see if it will get a hearing and vote before Congress adjourns for the session later this year.
"I don't know what the outcome is going to be. It's possible that with the publicity around this ethics complaint, they may not do anything with the bill," Whitfield said. "Our whole story is, no she did not lobby me on it."