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.)
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.