Congressman offers unusual defense in ethics probe

By JOHN DUNBAR

Center for Public Integrity

WASHINGTON — Rep. Roger Williams, the Austin Republican under investigation by the House Ethics Committee, asserts that he did nothing wrong when he offered an amendment that would benefit car dealers — despite the fact that he himself is a car dealer.

Members of Congress, under House rules, may not use their positions for personal financial benefit. But Williams asserted in a written statement that he did not profit from his actions.

Instead, Williams said, he offered the amendment at the behest of a lobbyist. And the lobbyist — whose employer, the National Automobile Dealers Association, is one of the congressman’s top donors — sent along “proposed language” for the text of the amendment.

The House Ethics Committee is considering the matter. There is no timetable for when the committee will rule. But regardless of what happens, the congressman’s defense offers a rare glimpse at how business is often done in the Capitol.

In this case, at least, it reveals a place where lobbyists have enormous influence; where a legislator was arguably more concerned with his own interests and those of his donors than his constituents; and where actions that appear at first glance to be clear conflicts of interest are, in fact, routine.

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