UPDATE: Rep. Owens will repay $22,000 for Taiwan junket

UPDATE: A few minutes ago, Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) released a statement promising to pay back roughly $22,000 to a Taiwanese cultural institution that paid for his trip to that island nation last December.

Pro Publica reported yesterday that the trip was arranged in party by a lobbying firm, which appears to violate House ethics rules.  Here’s the updated statement from Rep. Owens.

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”

Owens’ Republican challenger, Matt Doheny from Watertown, also issued a statement a short time ago calling the 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.”  Doheny spokesman Jude Seymour said, adding, “We can do much better.”

(Correction:  The quote above was originally attributed to Doheny but it was Seymour’s statement.)

ORIGINAL POST

The investigative journalism group Pro Publica has published a detailed report suggesting that Congressman Bill Owens from Plattsburgh took part in a $22,000 junket to Taiwan last December that was arranged by a lobbying group.

Owens’ wife Jane also took part in the all-expenses-paid trip.  If true, that would apparently violate House ethics rules. This from Pro Publica.

[E]mail messages and other documents reviewed by ProPublica show that lobbyists from the New York firm Park Strategies, founded by former New York Sen. Al D’Amato, had invited Owens on the trip and spent four months organizing it.

A rule passed by Congress after the Jack Abramoff scandal states: “Member and staff participation in officially-connected travel that is in any way planned, organized, requested, or arranged by a lobbyist is prohibited.”

The congressman’s office issued a statement from Owens spokesman Sean Magers that reads as follows:

“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.”

But ethics documents filed by Owens’ office with the House Ethics Committee don’t appear to make mention of Park Strategies, or the extensive role of the lobbying firm in facilitating the trip.

This news comes as Owens is locked in what is expected to be a tight election campaign with Republican Matt Doheny from Watertown.

Already Tea Party activist Mark Barie has called for Owens to resign.  “If I was offered an all-expense paid trip to Taiwan worth $22,000 I would ask why,” Barie said in a statement.  “And if I didn’t ask why, I would be called stupid or dishonest or both.”

NCPR has asked Rep. Owens for an interview and will update this story as it develops.

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17 Comments on “UPDATE: Rep. Owens will repay $22,000 for Taiwan junket”

  1. Ken Hall says:

    Is this further evidence that those who yearn to play in the political realm universally have egos which expand without bound?

    Does this mean we are facing another 160 years of Republican grip on the North Country’s representation in the U.S. House?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  2. michael coffey says:

    Senator Pot-hole is a clumsy lobbyist if he managed to embroil in a scandal someone he was trying to positively influence on behalf of a client. Owens might consider coming clean unless the Park Strategies fingerprinst Pro Publica found all over this deal were just not visible to Owens, and he can prove it.
    But if he knew that D’amato’s firm was involved at all, that’s bad. By the way, Park has the son of Republican and Long Island congressman Peter King on his payroll, I believe. It’s all smudgy.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  3. Paul says:

    This doesn’t look like a big deal to me.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  4. tootightmike says:

    I hate hearing this story. Mr Owens seems like a squeaky-clean guy, and his priorities have pleased me for the most part. Matt Doheny is so obviously slimy and double-talking that it’s hard to imagine that we’d go that way.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4

  5. hermit thrush says:

    let’s hope owens comes clean, fully and forthrightly.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  6. It's Still All Bush's Fault says:

    If there is any substance to it, I’m sure it can be explained away as a simple oversight by a staffer.

    It’s only $22,000! Give me a break!

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  7. Paul says:

    The firm got the Taiwanese to pay the whole tab. Seems like a smart move. It saved the taxpayers some money.

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  8. Pete Klein says:

    I am so bored with the junk that passes for news, especially “Braking News!”

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  9. Paul says:

    Pete, are you also bored with “breaking news”?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  10. Pete Klein says:

    It’s trivial breaking news. It’s a tempest in the teapot.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  11. tootightmike says:

    Doheny says “we could do better” Ha! Does he mean $800 per night?

    Popular. Like/Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  12. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    A google news search finds no contemporaneous news story about Owens’ trip. It seems like a trip to try to bring jobs back to the district would have been a news story at the time?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  13. zeke says:

    We all hate Congress, but we all love our own congressmen.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    “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.” Doheny said, adding, “We can do much better.”

    Yeah, no kidding! And you can trust Doheny on this one, he knows a thing or two about how to have a good time. Who wants to vacation in Taiwan? Fiji or Bali would have been a better choice. Maybe even Peru in April.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 3 Thumb down 4

  15. oa says:

    Interesting that Mark Barie is being so vocal here, as he’s no stranger to controversial bargains:
    http://pressrepublican.com/0100_news/x96559765/Sale-of-Old-Stone-Barracks-pending

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  16. Gary says:

    Interesting how members rally around the “tribal” leader in times of turmoil!

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  17. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Al D’Amato! That really hurts.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Comments are closed.