House ethics committee eyes car dealership exemption

A group of 62 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives is lobbying to keep car dealerships exempt from a Wall Street reform bill that will be considered later this month.

But as the lawmakers are pushing for the exemption, a House ethics committee is investigating the timing of fundraisers or donations for three Democrats and five Republicans just before the Dec. 11 House vote on the Wall Street reform bill, says The Washington Post and Southern California Public Radio. Ethics rules don't forbid fundraisers before votes on legislation.

What a car dealership exemption would mean for consumers is that auto dealers would be able to continuing offering dealer-assisted financing in auto loans, which proponents say would decrease the cost of auto loans by offering another financing option.

"During tough economic times when our local dealers are trying to expand their business and create jobs, they do not need new and uncertain regulations from Washington," says U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y. in a statement. He is leading the charge for the exemption. The group of 62 Democrats sent a letter Wednesday to House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., urging him to keep auto dealerships exempted from the Wall Street reform bill.

One of the congressmen under scrutiny by the Office of Congressional Ethics is Republican John Campbell of Irvine, Calif., who introduced the exemption amendment and who also owned several auto dealerships before heading to Washington, D.C.

Southern California Public Radio is reporting that Campbell held two fundraisers just a few days before lawmakers dropped an amendment that would have restored federal oversight of dealerships' financing of new and used cars. Campbell's spokesman said the committee investigation is "routine."

The Washington Post reports the other lawmakers under scrutiny are Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex.; Melvin Watt, D-N.C.;
Tom Price, R-Ga.; Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.; Frank Lucas, R-Okla.; Christopher Lee, R-N.Y.; and Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y. Spokesmen for Campbell, Crowley and Pomeroy told the newspaper the lawmakers complied with ethic rules. The other representatives either could not be reached by the Post or declined to comment.

Citing anonymous sources and letters sent by the Office of Congressional Ethics to lobbyists requesting information, the Post says the probe focuses on whether the timing of the fundraising creates an unacceptable appearance of a conflict.
The OCE declined to comment to the newspaper.

An OCE spokesman told WalletPop the office could not "confirm or comment" if there was an investigation.

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