House Ethics panel investigating Texas congressman

WASHINGTON – A congressional review panel says there is “substantial reason to believe” that a Republican congressman from Texas may have been perceived to be acting in his own financial interest when he offered an amendment to benefit auto dealers last year.

Texas Rep. Roger Williams is an auto dealer, and he has come under scrutiny by the House Ethics Committee over an amendment he offered to a wide-ranging transportation bill that would have allowed auto dealers to rent out vehicles even if they’re subject to recall. Williams has said the amendment was intended to address recalls aimed at trivial defects, but critics said it would apply more broadly.

The House Ethics Committee’s Republican chairman and senior Democrat said in a joint statement that the panel is reviewing a referral from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics, an outside panel that reviews ethics complaints against House members.

The review panel said in a 43-page report released by the ethics committee Thursday 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 of an amendment to the surface transportation legislation.”

The report said Williams’ actions may have violated House rules and standards of conduct regarding conflicts of interest. The House ethics panel will rule on that after finishing its investigation.

The ethics panel also released a joint statement from Williams and his auto dealership denying wrongdoing. The statement said Williams offered the amendment after being asked to by National Automotive Dealers Association and noted that he was up front about being an auto dealer when he spoke about it on the House floor. The statement also said that his dealership does not turn a profit from car rentals.

The report noted that the ethics committee has previously advised that a member doesn’t always have to directly benefit from an action to violate the rules. The perception of that benefit can be enough to merit a violation.

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center had urged a House Ethics Committee investigation of Williams over the issue.