Ethics group calls for probe of Texas rep over car rental amendment

Ethics group calls for probe of Texas rep over car rental amendment
© Greg Nash
The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), an independent entity that reviews allegations of lawmaker misconduct, is urging the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Rep. Roger WilliamsJohn (Roger) Roger WilliamsLessons learned from a failed bet on 'Housing First' The CFPB's data overreach hurts the businesses it claims to help Early redistricting plans show GOP retrenching for long haul MORE (R-Texas) offered an amendment that could have benefited his personal financial interests.
The House Ethics Committee said Thursday that it is extending its review of Williams and hasn’t decided yet whether to open a formal investigation or drop the matter.
At issue is whether Williams violated House ethics rules by offering an amendment to last year’s transportation bill while serving as the chairman of his eponymous car dealership, Roger Williams Auto Mall. His wife and daughters are the Weatherford, Texas, dealership’s managing partners.
The six-member board of the OCE unanimously adopted a report recommending the House Ethics Committee review whether Williams improperly acted on legislation in which he had a personal financial interest. The report said there is “substantial reason to believe” the Texas Republican’s stake in his auto dealership could be perceived as influencing his duties as a lawmaker. 
The House ethics manual prohibits members from using their positions for personal financial benefit. It also recommends that members who consider involving themselves in legislation that may affect their financial interests contact the Ethics Committee for guidance.
Williams’s amendment would have effectively exempted car dealerships from a provision in the bill that prohibited renting or loaning vehicles under safety recalls. He argued while offering his amendment on the House floor last November that the provision would unduly burden small businesses.
His proposal passed the House by voice vote, but it was not included in the final compromise legislation signed into law.
Williams maintains that he only offered the amendment out of his expertise in the auto industry, not because he was seeking to benefit his car dealership.
Furthermore, the counsel representing Williams and the dealership, Chris Gober, said an outside group, the National Automotive Dealers Association, was the entity that “encouraged” the lawmaker to offer the amendment in the first place.
In a rebuttal to the OCE report, which was released publicly on Thursday, Gober said Williams’s dealership doesn’t make money by renting vehicles and instead facilitates rentals between its customers and a local Enterprise branch. Williams’s amendment would have applied to dealerships, not rental companies like Enterprise.
Gober said the Roger Williams Auto Mall does have eight loaner vehicles, but they are provided to customers for free and do not benefit the company financially.
Therefore, Gober argued, Williams’s amendment would not have affected his personal financial interests. 
“Granted, the service is aimed at creating goodwill between the Dealership and its customers, but simply put, the provision of loaner vehicles is not a profitable enterprise, regardless of the fleet size or whether any of the eight vehicles are on recall,” Gober wrote.
“[H]e acted with a sincere belief that he was performing an ordinary and basic task of a legislator."
The review commenced after the Campaign Legal Center, a campaign finance and government ethics reform group, sent a letter to the House Ethics Committee and OCE presenting the allegations.
The OCE said that Williams, as well as the Roger Williams Auto Mall, declined to cooperate with its investigation and didn’t provide information in response to questions. The OCE board recommended issuing subpoenas to Williams and his dealership.
If the Ethics Committee does open a formal investigation, such an outcome could complicate Williams's bid for chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).
Williams previously considered a run in 2014 to chair the NRCC, which serves as the House GOP campaign arm. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio), who's currently a deputy NRCC chairman, is also running for the slot against Williams this year.
House Republicans will vote on nominees for their leadership positions during the lame-duck session after the results of the November elections.