Federal Politics

Published — June 28, 2016

Car dealer-congressman subject of ethics probe

Republican Rep. Roger Williams submitted amendment that would benefit his business

Introduction

The House Ethics Committee has revealed it is investigating the conduct of U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, a Weatherford car dealer who authored an amendment that would have exempted his industry from a safety requirement and benefited his own business.

Williams’ apparent conflict of interest was first reported by the Center for Public Integrity in November and led to a formal complaint being filed by the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington, D.C. legal watchdog.

In a brief press release, the House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it had “decided to extend the matter regarding” Williams, which was “transmitted to the committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics on May 13, 2016.”

The Office of Congressional Ethics is a nonpartisan organization that vets complaints against members. The press release revealed for the first time publicly that the claims of misconduct leveled against Williams were under review by the House Ethics Committee.

The committee will announce its “course of action” on or before Aug. 11.

The amendment was proposed as part of a broader transportation bill. Offered just before midnight on Nov. 11, 2015, it would have allowed automobile dealers to rent or loan out vehicles even if they were subject to safety recalls. Rental car companies, meanwhile, wouldn’t get the same treatment. The measure passed the House of Representatives but after the Center wrote about it, the Williams proposal died in the conference process between the House and the Senate.

In the complaint, the Campaign Legal Center asked for a review and also recommended changes to clarify House rules concerning recusal and conflicts of interest by members.

The House Code of Conduct generally prohibits a member from taking an official action that may benefit his or her financial interest. Officially, a member cannot receive compensation where “the receipt of which would occur by virtue of influence improperly exerted from the position of such individual in Congress.”

The House Ethics Manual states that “whenever a Member is considering taking any such action on a matter that may affect his or her personal financial interests,” he or she should contact the House Ethics Committee for guidance.

It’s not clear whether Williams sought such guidance. Vince Zito, Williams’ spokesman, did not return a call seeking comment nor did he respond to an email asking whether Williams sought such a review.

The rental car provision in the legislation, which was also in the Senate version, was spurred by the deaths of Raechel and Jacqueline Houck, ages 24 and 20. The two sisters were killed in 2004 while driving a rented, recalled vehicle that caught fire and crashed head-on into a semi, according to consumer groups that have backed the rental car proposal.

Williams’ amendment would have made the act apply only to companies whose “primary” business is renting cars, which would effectively exclude dealerships. No such provision existed in the Senate bill.

Williams is chairman of Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM SRT in Weatherford. In his remarks on the House floor, Williams said the bill was bad for small businesses.

“Vehicles would be grounded for weeks or months for such minor compliance matters as an airbag warning sticker that might peel off the sun visor or an incorrect phone number printed in the owner’s manual,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Lois Capps of California didn’t agree with that reasoning, however.

“This is ridiculous. NHTSA (National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration) does not issue frivolous recalls,” she said. “All safety recalls pose serious safety risks and should be fixed as soon as possible.”

Though Williams’ amendment did not make it into law, a House-Senate conference committee decided that rather than exempting auto dealers from the requirement, it would exempt rental fleets with 35 or fewer cars. That provision was included in the larger transportation bill and signed into law in December.

Williams has not responded directly to requests for comment from the Center, but issued a statement to the McClatchy news service Monday via Zito.

Williams, he said, offered the amendment “precisely because of his extensive knowledge and experience in the automotive industry and because he chose to apply some common sense to legislation that was specifically intended to regulate rental car companies.”

He continued: “Long-standing House precedents have not found that members are required to abstain themselves from legislation that affects a large class of individuals and businesses.”

A spokesman for the House Ethics Committee declined comment. Punishment for violating House rules can include a formal reprimand, censure or even expulsion. Each action would require a vote of the full House.

Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a group that advocates for vehicle safety, was highly critical of Williams’ conduct. Shahan said she hopes the news of the committee’s review “sends a message that lawmakers should be representing the public and not their own personal interests.”

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Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Trump needs to conduct these activities because the entire MSM media, excluding Fox, is campaigning against him 24/7/365.

Didn’t Monica’s boyfriend’s wife and various criminal enterprises outspend Trump by almost 2-1?

CapitalistRoader
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CapitalistRoader

Why wouldn’t he get an early start on fund raising? Hillary outspent him two-to-one in 2016. The Dem’s are the party of big money. The President knows this and is attempting to get a jump on it. Of course the Dem candidate will outspend him in 2020 so it’s only rational that he starts fund raising now.

George Young
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George Young

Oh brother. We just 8 years of the Campaigner – in – Chief. Where was this journalistic rectal thermometer then. Just another article about 2000 words too long that merely takes another slap at Trump for something he far from initiated.

j stevenson
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j stevenson

The big difference between Trump and all the rest is his refusing to accept funds from lobbyists, so they don’t have the White House access they are used to. These are the donors who buy the presidency and are as pixxed off that he won the election as are the media and the Dems. Lobbyists have never been shut out of the WH and Trump has told them he is not for sale.

jan v
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jan v

all the lobbyists are running all our government agencies and all the career civil servants who know how to run the country have been fired. YOU think this is a good thing ? what a crock…

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Trump needs to be impeached and tossed in prison. Then have the key thrown away so he will never be free. Then he can see how it feels not to have freedom.

Mark Sullivan
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Mark Sullivan

Thank you for the usual insightful leftist low IQ Snowflake response.

barney
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hes not imprisoning them hes sending them back to their country chill tf out

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

WHY DONT YOU HAVE FREEDOM?

Tom Larkin
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Tom Larkin

First, something positive. I was happy to learn of empirical information in article. BUT, the article was so slanted against President Trump as to be deemed fake news (“Perhaps Trump just lied.” (Two different issues)). The article mentions that President Trump raised over $67 million, but ended 2018 with $19 million. President Trump spent over $40 million 2016 and 2017. President Trump conducted 57 political rallies. The article notes the hats and T-shirts sold, but NEVER MENTIONS THE INCREASE IN THE NUMBER OF REPUBLICAN SENATORS during a mid-term election that lost the House and the number of political rallies in… Read more »

Ted Sirois
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Ted Sirois

At least Trump is getting donations from willing donors. Fresh from his first election, Obama used billions of our children’s tax dollars to save thousands of union jobs in the car industry and bailed out the banks and many Wall Street businesses. This secured his source of reelection funds for his reelection four years later.

South Jersey
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South Jersey

TRUMP 2020; IS AN AMAZINGLY SMART MAN! VERY ORIGINAL & CREATIVE. I AM HAPPY TO HAVE HIS AS POTUS.

SOUTH JERSEY
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SOUTH JERSEY

THIS ARTICLE WAS OBVIOUSLY WRITTEN BY, A TRUMP-HATE-GROUP. THAT FEELS; IT IS NOT NORMAL TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITH YOUR OWN BRAND NAME. WHEN, IF FACT, IT IS NORMAL! >>>>> THIS IS >>> FAKE NEWS!!! <<<< ie: A PACK-OF-LIES; SPUN INTO; DEFAMATION OF CHARACTER. FOR A SINISTER-AGENDA OF; FASCIST DEMOCRATIC SOCIALIST, COUP D'ETAT

David
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David

Are you on some kind of drugs? Writing in caps makes me think that you are grumpy old fart or a uneducated hillbilly.