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House Ethics Committee drops complaint against NM’s Ben Ray Luján

WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee said Tuesday it is dropping its investigation against Democratic Rep. Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico.

The committee also dropped a case against Republican Rep. Roger Williams of Texas.

Luján, 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.

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U.S. Rep Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Williams, an 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 Luján 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 Luján 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 Luján 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 Luján were sent by a campaign consultant on the congressman’s behalf, adding that there was no evidence that Luján 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 Luján 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 Luján is committed to abiding by House rules and will continue to do so in the future.”

Williams on Tuesday stood by his decision to offer an amendment to a wide-ranging transportation bill that would have allowed auto dealers to rent out vehicles even if they’re subject to recall.

“This bill would have resulted in unintended consequences that would punish small business owners, employees and consumers,” he said in a statement. “As I knew all along, the committee found no violation of any law, rule or regulation.”

Williams 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.”

In Luján’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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