Responding to Campaign Legal Center letter, Office of Congressional Ethics finds reason to believe Rep. Roger Williams violated House ethics rules
CLC Letter Against Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) Leads to Possible Investigation by the House Ethics Committee
WASHINGTON – Late yesterday, the House Ethics Committee revealed that the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) found “substantial reason to believe” Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) may have violated House ethics rules. The OCE’s action came in response to a letter filed by the Campaign Legal Center last fall. The Committee indicated it is conducting a review of the potential violation after receiving the referral from OCE this past May.
Rep. Williams, who owns an automobile dealership in Weatherford, Texas, offered an amendment exempting such dealerships from a provision in the surface transportation bill requiring businesses renting automobiles to pull recalled vehicles from their fleets. In a November 2015 letter to the House Ethics Committee and the OCE, the Campaign Legal Center urged a review of Rep. Williams’ decision to offer an amendment that would benefit his own business. CLC’s letter also questioned whether Rep. Williams asked the House Ethics Committee for guidance on his actions as outlined in the House Ethics Manual.
The OCE, by unanimous bipartisan vote, found that “there is substantial reason to believe that Rep. Williams’ personal financial interest in his auto dealership may be perceived as having influenced his performance of official duties – namely, his decision to offer an amendment to the surface transportation legislation." The OCE report also noted that Rep. Williams refused to cooperate with its investigation.
“As we stated in our letter last November, the House Ethics Manual differentiates between a Representative voting on a bill that affects him or her as a member of a class and a Representative acting as an advocate,” said Meredith McGehee, policy director of the Campaign Legal Center. “The Manual explicitly states that prior to undertaking such advocacy implicating a Representative’s financial interest, the Representative should clear it with the Ethics Committee. It remains unclear whether Rep. Williams ever did that.”
The questions about Rep. Williams’ actions were first raised by the Center for Public Integrity which described the amendment being offered just before midnight on November 11. The amendment allowed automobile 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.”
“Given Rep. Williams’ refusal to cooperate with the OCE inquiry, it is critical for the House Ethics Committee to conduct a full investigation into this matter. It is also important for the Committee to further clarify and strengthen House ethics rules that deal with legislative actions in which the member has a pecuniary interest,” said McGehee. “Current rules and guidance are insufficient to protect against conflicts of interest, and ill-serve members, leaving them vulnerable to questions about their motivations.”
The Committee did not set a timetable for further action.