Congress

Rep. Williams, a car dealer who helped car dealers, faces ethics review

Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, is facing a review by the House Ethics Committee.
Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, is facing a review by the House Ethics Committee. AP

The House Ethics Committee disclosed Monday it is reviewing a complaint against Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas.

Although the panel did not reveal the details, in November the Campaign Legal Center announced it was filing a complaint against Williams, who owns a car dealership outside of Fort Worth, accusing him of a conflict of interest. He sponsored an amendment that would allow auto dealers to rent cars and use loaners under recall. The amendment was later modified to apply to agencies and dealers with 35 or fewer cars to loan or rent. It took effect June 1.

The legislation, Raechel and Jaqueline Houck Safe Rental Car Act, was named after two California sisters killed in a rental car under recall.

“The chairman and ranking member of the Ethics Committee have jointly decided to extend the matter regarding Rep. Roger Williams, which was transmitted to the committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics on May 13, 2016,” said the committee’s news release. The Office of Congressional Ethics is a separate panel that considers ethics complaints from outside groups and can refer them to the Ethics Committee.

The Ethics Committee said that it was not making any judgment by extending its review and members would announce a “course of action” by Aug. 11. An official said there would be no further comment.

In a statement to McClatchy, Williams’ office said his amendment was a “common-sense” move. “Congressman Williams offered an 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,” said Vince Zito, Williams’ spokesman.

“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,” said Zito. “We are confident that the Ethics Committee will reaffirm its precedents.”

Campaign Legal Center policy director Meredith McGehee told McClatchy, “To me, this is pretty cut and dried. He didn’t go through the right process here. There is a legitimate suspicion of our elected officials mixing the personal and the private.”

She did not know of the Ethics Committee’s review until told by McClatchy. “I can’t say I’m pleased because this is not the expeditious resolution that I think Rep. Williams deserved,” she said.

Rosemary Shahan, president of Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, said she was “encouraged” that the Ethics Committee was looking at the issue. The group helped push the legislation on car rentals under recall.

“It was so blatant,” said Shahan. “It benefited nobody but car dealers.”

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