Rep. Williams Didn't Answer Ethics Questions, Report Says

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By Kenneth P. Doyle

Aug. 11 — Rep. Roger Williams (R-Texas) refused to cooperate with investigators from the Office of Congressional Ethics looking into whether his personal interest as an owner of auto dealerships influenced or appeared to influence his sponsorship of legislation favoring dealerships, according to a report released Aug. 11.

The House Ethics Committee released a statement with the OCE report indicating that the committee is extending a review of allegations that Williams violated House rules that prohibit lawmakers from taking official action to promote their personal financial interests.

Williams last year offered an amendment to a surface transportation bill effectively exempting auto dealerships that rent or loan cars from a provision barring rental of a car subject to a safety recall. When the OCE sought information about whether Williams's dealerships would be affected by the provision, the congressman and the dealerships refused to provide the information requested, the OCE report said.

Williams Denied Personal Gain

Williams denied that his financial interests would be affected by the amendment he sponsored, according to a response from his attorney, Chris Gober. The response, released by the Ethics Committee, acknowledged that Williams's dealerships have cars that are used as loaners but said Williams acted “ethically, without any improper motivations, and without any desire or possible effect of personal gain.”

OCE has no subpoena power, so it could not force Williams or his business to provide information. The OCE report recommended that the Ethics Committee start an investigation and issue subpoenas to obtain information from Williams and the dealerships.

The OCE, an independent unit within the House, was launched in 2009 to screen ethics allegations and determine which matters should be referred to the Ethics Committee. The office has conducted dozens of probes so far and usually—but not always—has received cooperation from those questioned.

The OCE report concluded that there was “substantial reason to believe” that Williams’s interest in his auto dealership business “may be perceived as having influenced his performance of official duties—namely, his decision to offer of an amendment to the surface transportation legislation.”

OCE Board 6-0 Vote

The board that heads the OCE voted 6-0 to refer the Williams matter to the House Ethics Committee with a recommendation for further review. The OCE board is composed of ex-lawmakers and other experts who are not current members of Congress.

The nonprofit Campaign Legal Center announced last year that it filed an ethics complaint against Williams alleging he violated House conflict-of-interest rules by offering an amendment that could benefit his car dealership business.

The complaint cited media reports, including a story by the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, saying Williams's amendment would exempt such dealerships from a provision requiring businesses renting autos to pull recalled vehicles from their fleets.

Williams issued a response at the time acknowledging that he sponsored the amendment but calling the Center for Public Integrity report about it “a joke.”

He added: “During public debate of the recently passed transportation bill on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, I offered a one-word, technical amendment that would affect thousands of auto dealers industry-wide. I chose to apply some common sense to legislation that specifically intended to further over regulate small businesses and increase burdens on Main Street while they are still trying to survive in this Obama economy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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