Feedback: Owens Will Pay For Trip to Settle Ethics Issue
North country Congessman Bill Owens (D. -23rd District) says he's unsure if ethics rules were broken when he took a trip to Taiwan last December.
"I will tell you we did everything in good faith and we are comfortable we acted in good faith. If a mistake was make, it was done unintentionally," Owens said in a telephone interview with 7 News reporter John Moore.
He also says he's personally paying back money for the trip to put the matter to rest.
"I'm going to pay the cost of the trip because I want to make sure that if there's any question, any question at all, we're going to be very conservative in our view of this and take care of it," Owens said.
Owens made the remarks after a political investigative website said he may have violated House of Representative ethics rules when he took the trip.
ProPublica reports that the trip was organized by lobbyists for the Taiwan government.
Congressional rules prohibit members from taking most trips arranged by lobbyists.
Owens spokesman Sean Magers told ProPublica that the House Ethics Committee approved the trip and that it was in full compliance with ethics rules.
Magers released the following statement Friday:
"Congressman Owens filed all the necessary paperwork with the House Ethics Committee and conducted the trip with their approval. The trip was planned through significant communication with the embassy of Taiwan, and we believe it was conducted within full compliance of House rules."
Members of Congress are required to file document disclosing what trips they've taken and who arranged them.
The article says Owens and his wife were ostensibly invited by the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan "to promote international cultural exchange."
Documents reviewed by ProPublica reveal that lobbyists from the New York firm Park Strategies invited Owens and spent four months organizing the trip.
Park Strategies was founded by former New York Sen. Alphonse D’Amato.
ProPublica says Owens' filings with with the ethics committee didn't mention the role of D'Amato's lobbying group in arranging the four-day, $22,000 trip.
Congress has a rule prohibiting travel "in any way planned, organized, requested, or arranged by a lobbyist."
ProPublica's Justin Elliott said, "the central problem is there is a rule passed after the Jack Abramoff scandal in the mid-2000s saying that lobbyists are not allowed to organize most congressional trips and that's basically what happened here."
Congressman Owens issued the following statement Friday afternoon:
"Job creation has been and continues to be my top priority for New York. With that goal in mind, I had the opportunity last year to visit Taiwan and meet with representatives from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp (TSMC), a high-tech company that is considering opening a manufacturing facility in Upstate New York. If this facility comes to fruition, it has the potential to create hundreds, if not thousands of good paying jobs in the region. Along with other meetings, I met with the Taiwan Chamber of Commerce and promoted investment and job creation in Northern New York via the EB5 Program, which allows foreign investors in the US economy to obtain U.S. visas.
We closely followed the Ethics Committee's process to seek advance approval for the trip, which we obtained. Because the sponsor, the Chinese Culture University, did not employ or retain lobbyists or foreign agents, and because no lobbyist or foreign agent was traveling with me or paying for the trip, we did not understand that our contacts with an agent for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office could affect the trip's permissibility. We made every effort to comply with the standards of conduct and continue to believe that no rules were violated.
Still, I hold myself and my office to the highest of ethical standards. In an abundance of caution, and to avoid any question about the purpose of the travel, which was to bring jobs to New York, or about whether it was appropriate for the sponsor to pay for its costs, I am reimbursing the sponsor personally for the full value of the trip."
The following is the response from Jude Seymour, deputy campaign manager and spokesman for Republican Congressional candidate Matt Doheny:
"We find ProPublica's report very troubling. Bill Owens had lobbyist buddies arrange a luxurious Christmas vacation for him and his wife - complete with first class flights and $500-a-night hotel stays. Bill Owens' call to lobbyists - who are also, incidentally, campaign donors - to 'super-size' his trip is emblematic of everything that's wrong in Washington. We ask our members of Congress to represent our interests. Bill Owens would rather take a $22,000 trip to a foreign country with his wife than find ways to fix this ailing economy and get constituents back to work. We can do much better."
Kellie Greene, the other Republican Congressional candidate, said, "I want the full story before I make a judgment. Maybe we're too quick to judge. There are always two sides to every story."
See the full story.
See the disclosure forms Owens filed with the Ethics Committee.
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