Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) has introduced several bills that could provide a windfall for a firm that employs his wife, raising potential conflict of interest concerns for the liberal Democrat.
Whitehouse’s wife, Sandra Whitehouse, has since 2022 served as ocean policy adviser for Running Tide Technology, a startup that works to remove carbon dioxide from the ocean. Whitehouse, who serves on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and chairs the Senate Budget Committee, has introduced legislation that would steer taxpayer funds to companies in the carbon dioxide removal industry.
Sandra Whitehouse’s work for Running Tide could open her husband to the same kinds of criticisms he has levied against Republicans. The senator has proposed a bill to beef up transparency for Supreme Court justices and attacked Ginni Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas, over her consulting work. Whitehouse cited Ginni Thomas’s text messages regarding the 2020 election in calling for "significant ethics reform at the Supreme Court."
The Sustaining Healthy Ecosystems, Livelihoods, and Local Seafood Act, which Whitehouse introduced in June, would form an office for "aquaculture" in the U.S. Department of Agriculture in order to bolster seaweed farmers and "promote blue carbon ecosystems." Running Tide uses kelp, a type of seaweed, to capture carbon dioxide in the ocean.
Last year, Whitehouse and Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) introduced the Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act, which would provide subsidies to companies that capture carbon dioxide from the air or seawater. Whitehouse said the bill calls for $3.5 billion in funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to "boost investment, create jobs, and help make the U.S. a global leader in the technology of carbon removal." Sandra Whitehouse touted Running Tide’s technology at an event last month to promote the Massachusetts Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act, a bill modeled on the federal legislation her husband proposed last year.
Running Tide has lobbied extensively over the past two years, spending $300,000 on "issues related to carbon sequestration using deep water kelp," according to lobbying disclosures. The company’s CEO, Marty Odlin, called on Congress and the executive branch earlier this year to "mandate" more spending on technologies to retrieve carbon dioxide from the ocean.
Whitehouse has faced scrutiny before over his wife’s work at two nonprofit groups that work on causes related to the ocean. The organizations have paid Sandra Whitehouse more than $3.1 million since 2008, according to Capital Research Center’s InfluenceWatch. Whitehouse has introduced more than two dozen pieces of legislation related to the ocean, according to reports.
Scott Walter, the president of Capital Research Center, said Sandra Whitehouse’s work for Running Tide could pose additional concerns about transparency because Running Tide will not have to disclose how much it pays the senator’s wife.
"Outside investigators have unearthed millions of dollars to Sen. Whitehouse’s wife from nonprofits, so it’s no surprise she also receives money from for-profits, whose cash stays much further in the dark," Walter told the Washington Free Beacon.
Sen. Whitehouse disclosed that his wife received more than $1,000 from Running Tide, but did not state the full amount of her income.
Running Tide, which recently announced a deal with Microsoft to remove 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide from the ocean, has faced skepticism in the industry over concerns that its methods will disrupt the ocean’s delicate ecosystem. Some scientists reportedly quit the company over concerns that executives were not doing enough to mitigate the environmental costs of its technology.
Whitehouse’s office and Running Tide did not respond to requests for comment.