Federal Politics

Published — November 18, 2015 Updated — December 8, 2017 at 2:45 pm ET

Congressman-auto dealer accused of conflict of interest

Rep. Williams’ amendment allows dealerships to rent cars with safety recalls

Introduction

Nov. 19, 2015: This story has been updated to include comment from U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Texas.

Buried deep within a massive transportation bill that passed the House of Representatives is a little-noticed provision that won’t have much effect on highway projects, but is of great interest to automobile dealers.

The provision, an amendment offered just before midnight on Nov. 11, would allow dealers to rent or loan out vehicles even if they are subject to safety recalls. Rental car companies, meanwhile, don’t get the same treatment under the proposed law.

>> UPDATE: House Ethics Committee scolds, doesn’t punish Roger Williams

In essence, the amendment would allow an auto dealer to loan you a vehicle under active recall while you are getting your own fixed for the same defect.

The man who offered the amendment is no stranger to car dealerships. In fact, that’s his business. Rep. Roger Williams, a Texas Republican, sponsored the amendment. In introducing it on the floor of the House, he noted, “I am a second-generation auto dealer. I have been in the industry most of my life. I know it well.”

The possibility that his action might be considered a conflict of interest was apparently not on his mind, though it certainly occurred to others.

“It seems to me that if it isn’t illegal, if it isn’t an ethics violation it ought to be,” said Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, a consumer group. “His amendment benefits nobody but car dealers. And he’s a car dealer.”

The rental car provision in the legislation, which is also in the Senate bill, 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 make the act apply only to companies whose “primary” business is renting cars, which would effectively exclude dealerships. No such provision exists in the Senate bill.

The amendment received little attention in the press, which may have been due to the late hour it was offered.

“It was the House floor, almost midnight, there was hardly anyone there,” said Shahan. It passed on a voice vote.

Speaking in favor of the amendment on the floor that night was another auto dealer, Rep. Mike Kelly, a Pennsylvania Republican who sells Chevrolets, Cadillacs, Hyundais and KIAs in Butler.

“There is not a single person in our business that would ever put one of our owners in a defective car or a car with a recall,” he said.

In an emailed statement, Kelly said as chairman of the House automotive caucus he is “always proud to advance a legislative agenda that encourages a competitive and innovative automotive sector that employs millions of Americans.This often means weighing in with my personal expertise on relevant bills, regulations, and, in this case, amendments.”

According to Williams’ congressional biography, he was drafted by the Atlanta Braves but after an injury ended his sports career he “decided to trade in his baseball uniform for a suit and tie” and become a car dealer. “More than forty years later, Williams still owns and operates his car dealership,” it reads.

Williams is chairman of Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM SRT in Weatherford, Texas. 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.”

Members use the House “Code of Conduct” in guiding their actions. One section appears to be relevant. A member can’t 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.

A spokesman for the House Ethics Committee declined comment.

(Update, Nov. 19, 2015, 3:06 p.m.: Williams, in a statement released after publication of this story said: “Dealers should not be forced to ground vehicles for a misprint or a peeled sticker. To suggest my amendment allows me, or anyone in my industry, to intentionally loan a dangerous, defective car is a damning assertion.”

The congressman said members should be able to use their business knowledge in their jobs on Capitol Hill. “Are Members of Congress who are doctors engaged in conflicts of interest when they vote on Medicare, Medicaid or NIH [National Institutes of Health] funding?” he asked.)

The Senate and House have both passed six-year transportation bills and a conference committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to iron out any differences. The auto dealer loophole will almost certainly be part of the discussion.

A final bill isn’t expected for some time. A new deadline for passage, initially Friday, was extended by the House to Dec. 4.

This story was co-published with the Texas Tribune.

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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.