Kentucky’s Rep. Whitfield is popular among energy interests

U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-KY, June 18, 2014, in Washington. (Keith Lane/MCT)
U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-KY, June 18, 2014, in Washington. (Keith Lane/MCT) MCT

Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., has collected $1.1 million in contributions from energy interests since taking over the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power less than four years ago.

The industry largesse has come even though in both the Nov. 4 election and in 2012 he’s drawn a Democratic opponent, Charles Hatchett, who raises no campaign money at all. Hatchett received fewer than half as many votes as Whitfield the last time they met.

Whitfield has held fundraisers at the posh Beverly Hills Hotel, at the Four Seasons hotel in the ski resort of Vail, Colo., at a pricey Washington steakhouse and at the Washington offices of Bracewell & Giuliani, an energy law and lobbying firm, according to invitations obtained by the Sunlight Foundation, a congressional watchdog group.

The lawmaker from Hopkinsville, Ky., who represents Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District, held fundraisers both for his congressional campaign account, which has more than $2 million in the bank, and his Thoroughbred Political Action Committee, which has about $220,000.

Electric utilities have been Whitfield’s biggest donors since he took over the Energy and Power Subcommittee, providing more than $550,000, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group in Washington that tracks campaign fundraising.

Whitfield is the fourth biggest recipient of money from electric utilities among all members of the House of Representatives, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He’s among the top 10 for contributions from the entire energy/natural resources sector.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, a major industry lobbying group, gave $47,000 to Whitfield. Other power companies that donated include Duke Energy, the Southern Company, PPL Corp. and Exelon Corp.

He received another $270,250 from oil and gas and $167,200 from mining. Whitfield has been an advocate for energy interests, including pushing for construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and opposing rules that would limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, part of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has jurisdiction over national energy policy, encompassing “all laws, programs and government activities affecting energy matters.” In the four years before Whitfield took over as the chairman of the subcommittee, he received less than a quarter as much money from energy interests as he has in the same time period since.

Such corporations give their money to “people who are close allies and to people who are in leadership positions,” said Stephen Voss, a political science associate professor at the University of Kentucky.

“Once he got some authority in an issue area, I very much would expect money to flow his way,” Voss said.

The fact that Whitfield isn’t in a competitive race doesn’t matter to donors, Voss said.

“What they are doing is making the life easier of someone who they think is willing to be an ally,” Voss said.

Whitfield is out raising money because his leadership position carries responsibilities to the Republican Party, said his communications director, Marty Irby.

Irby said that more than half a million dollars of the money had gone to the National Republican Congressional Committee this election cycle, as well as to individual Republican candidates on the federal, state and local level.

“In addition, you never know when you may have a top-tier opponent in the future and should be prepared,” Irby said.

Irby said he didn’t think there was any issue with the familiar practice of committee chairmen taking donations from the industries they oversaw.

This election cycle Whitfield has also received more than $340,000 from the health care and pharmaceutical industries. Whitfield is a member of the House Subcommittee on Health, which is also a part of the Energy and Commerce Committee.