House Ethics Com­mit­tee clears Wil­liams, N.M. Demo­crat Lu­jan

Austin American-Statesman - - STATESMAN AT THE LEGISLATURE - By Matthew Daly

The House Ethics Com­mit­tee said Tues­day it is drop­ping sep­a­rate in­ves­ti­ga­tions against Demo­cratic Rep. Ben Ray Lu­jan of New Mex­ico and Repub­li­can Rep. Roger Wil­liams of Texas.

Lu­jan, chair­man of the Demo­cratic Con­gres­sional Cam­paign Com­mit­tee, was ac­cused of us­ing the House cham­ber to raise money for cam­paign pur­poses dur­ing a June 2016 sit-in on gun con­trol.

Wil­liams, an Austin auto dealer, was ac­cused of a con­flict of in­ter­est in of­fer­ing a 2015 amend­ment to a trans­porta­tion bill that would have ben­e­fited auto deal­ers.

The ethics panel said nei­ther Lu­jan nor Wil­liams vi­o­lated House rules, but cau­tioned that both law­mak­ers acted in ways where mis­takes are pos­si­ble. The panel urged all House mem­bers to seek guid­ance from the ethics com­mit­tee when in doubt.

A spokesman for Lu­jan called the com­plaint po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and with­out merit.

The Foun­da­tion for Ac­count­abil­ity and Civic Trust, a con­ser­va­tive-lean­ing watch­dog group, filed a com­plaint last year al­leg­ing that Lu­jan and other Democrats vi­o­lated ethics rules by us­ing the House cham­ber to raise money for cam­paign pur­poses. Specif­i­cally, the group said Lu­jan and oth­ers sent cam­paign emails fea­tur­ing pho­tos of them­selves dur­ing the June 2016 sit-in.

The ethics panel found that the emails in­volv­ing Lu­jan were sent by a cam­paign con­sul­tant on the con­gress­man’s be­half, adding that there was no ev­i­dence Lu­jan di­rected the emails to be sent while on the House floor. The screen­shot used in one of the emails vi­o­lated House rules, the panel said, but there was no ev­i­dence Lu­jan was aware of the de­ci­sion to use the photo be­fore the fundrais­ing mis­sive was sent out.

Spokesman Joe Shoe­maker said the ethics panel “acted ap­pro­pri­ately by dis­miss­ing the case. Con­gress­man Lu­jan is com­mit­ted to abid­ing by House rules and will con­tinue to do so in the fu­ture.”

Wil­liams came un­der scru­tiny 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. He has said the amend­ment was in­tended to ad­dress re­calls aimed at triv­ial de­fects, but crit­ics said it would ap­ply more broadly.

The in­de­pen­dent Of­fice of Con­gres­sional Ethics, an out­side panel that re­views ethics com­plaints against House mem­bers, said Wil­liams’ per­sonal fi­nan­cial in­ter­est in his auto deal­er­ship could be per­ceived as hav­ing in­flu­enced his de­ci­sion to of­fer the amend­ment.

The ethics panel said Wil­liams should have sought ethics guid­ance be­fore sub­mit­ting the amend­ment and urged him to “take care to avoid cre­at­ing any im­pres­sion that he was spon­sor­ing the amend­ment to ben­e­fit him­self or his busi­ness.”

A spokes­woman for Wil­liams could not im­me­di­ately be reached.

In Lu­jan’s case, the ethics panel said “the evolv­ing na­ture of elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tions and cam­paign so­lic­i­ta­tions” presents “novel is­sues that are not di­rectly ad­dressed by the House Ethics Man­ual.” Fur­ther guid­ance on email use is needed, the panel said.



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