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Ethics Committee: Texas Congressman Did Not Violate Conflict of Interest Rules

August 10, 2017 0 Comments

On August 1, the House Ethics Committee ruled that Texas Republican Roger Williams “did not violate congressional conflict-of-interest rules in 2015 when he pushed changes to legislation that could have benefited his auto dealership” (Chron).

However, the panel did warn Williams that “this is an area where mistakes can be made,” citing an example from his floor speech where he argued that businesses like his could be hurt if his proposed changes didn’t occur.

“In light of these circumstances, Representative Williams should have contacted the [Ethics] Committee for guidance… to avoid any inference of improper action,” the panel wrote.

Had Williams contacted the committee, the panel noted, he would have been cautioned that “some members of the public, on first impression and without the benefit of the full picture the Committee’s investigation ultimately developed, may question whether his actions could be conflicted.”

According to Chron, Williams “welcomed” the bipartisan committee’s unanimous conclusion.

“I have extensive knowledge and experience in running a small business and I chose to apply some common sense to legislation that was overreaching with regulations,” Williams said in a statement on August 1. “This bill would have resulted in unintended consequences that would punish small business owners, employees and consumers. As I knew all along, the Committee found no violation of any law, rule, or regulation.”

The complaint against Williams, who owns a Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram dealership in Weatherford, Texas, was based on an amendment to a transportation bill that would exempt auto dealers from a rule forbidding them from “renting or loaning cars subject to safety recalls.”

Last year, the independent Office of Congressional Ethics found “substantial reason to believe that Representative Williams’ personal financial interest in his auto dealership may be perceived as having influenced his performance of official duties.”

Williams denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the amendment’s impact on his dealership loaners was “negligible” as his dealership doesn’t directly rent vehicles, instead facilitating rentals though a local company.

Williams’ dealership, also known as the Auto Mall, was founded in 1939 by his father and is still run by family members. In Williams’s 2015 congressional financial disclosure forms, the dealership was valued at $25 million and $50 million, generating around $63 million in gross revenue in 2015.

The amendment in question was first proposed by a National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) representative in 2015 in an email to Williams’ staff. The NADA official in the email explained that car dealers had a “major problem” with the legislation, and “asked Williams to sponsor an exemption for businesses not ‘primarily’ involved in renting cars” (Chron).

The ethics committee eventually concluded that while the amendment “could have affected… his personal financial interests,” the circumstances suggested they “did not create a reasonable inference of improper conduct.”

In a 2015 floor speech, Williams defended his right to take part in legislation regarding an industry in which he participates. “I am a second-generation auto dealer. I have been in the industry most of my life,” he said. “I know it well.”

Williams’ amendment passed the House on a “voice vote” which Williams argued was evidence that it was not controversial.

The amendment was later stripped from the bill’s final version during Senate negotiations and was replaced with a comparable measure that exempted any “rental company” owning fewer than 35 vehicles.

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