Update: Rep. Roger Williams calls ethics review Soros-funded “hit job”

Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) official portrait
Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) (Official portrait)

WASHINGTON (KXAN) — Austin-area congressman Roger Williams who is the subject of a House ethics review says he is the target of a “liberal hit job” funded by billionaire financier George Soros.

During an interview with KXAN News Today anchor John Dabkovich, Williams reinforced his position that he did not violate house rules when he proposed an amendment to a bill last November.  The amendment excluded car dealers from a law that prohibits rental car companies from renting out cars under recall.

Willams owns the Roger Williams Automall in Weatherford which facilitates car rentals for customers who bring their cars in for repairs. The non-partisan Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics, accusing Williams of using his public office to benefit his private business.

The Campaign Legal Center website shows a foundation tied to Soros’ son, Jonathan on its list of donors.

The U.S. House Ethics Committee agreed to review the case and revealed Thursday it was extending its review.

In a statement, Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA) his committee is looking into whether Rep. Williams, whose 25th congressional district spans from south of Forth Worth to Hays County, proposed a rule change that benefited his car dealership.

The Office of Congressional Ethics, whose board refers cases to the House Ethics Committee, said Williams did not cooperate with its investigation. A spokesman for Rep. Williams said the congressman was very cooperative with the committee.

Members of the OCE Board said Williams’ dealership could have benefited from his amendment, which the House approved but did not end up in the final bill.

They concluded “there is 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.”

KXAN reached out to Rep. Williams’ staff. Before granting an interview, a spokesman referred us to an official statement to the committee written by attorney Chris Gober.

In a joint statement from both Rep. Williams and his dealership, the Central Texas Congressman argued there was no reason why he would think amendment 819 could be considered unethical. He called it a “common sense clarification to poorly written legislation.”

Williams argued the law had no real effect on his dealership.

The response sent to the House Ethics Committee detailed how the amendment came to be:

  • The National Automotive Dealers Association (NADA) encouraged Williams to offer an amendment to the rules about rental cars under recall.
  • NADA worried the rules could harm about 16,000 dealerships that also rented cars.
  • The group sent proposed language to Williams’ office and Rep. Williams agreed to offer the amendment.
  • Rep. Williams sent the amendment to the Rules Committee, which allowed it to go to the floor for a vote.
  • Members of the United States House approved the amendment, but it was lost when differences were sorted out with the Senate’s version of the law.

“During that entire process, no one in Williams’ office, NADA, or the congressman himself discussed discussed the bill with the dealership management.” In his response, Williams argued the rental portion of his dealership makes no profit. It simply is a convenience for customers who need a loaner car.

Williams disclosed his dealership earned about $63 million in revenue in 2015. About $20,000 or .03% came from the loaner fleet. Maintaining those loaner cars cost the dealership about $60,000.

Williams argued his experience as a car dealer helped shape the rules and punishing him would discourage other lawmakers from offering their expertise.

“The result would be a firm discouragement for any Member who had any business interest outside of Congress to engage in the basic legislative process,” he said.

On multiple occasions, Williams described him as a second-generation car dealership owner, repeatedly telling KXAN in an interview he is a “businessman.” His district includes parts of Hays, Travis, and Burnet Counties. Prior to his work in Congress, Williams was Texas Secretary of State under Gov. Rick Perry.

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