By JOE LoTEMPLIO
---- — PLATTSBURGH — An ethics group says there is substantial reason to believe Congressman Bill Owens may have broken House rules and federal law by accepting travel payments from the government of Taiwan for a trip there last year.
The House Ethics Committee will continue to review the matter, but a formal, full-blown investigation is not expected.
The congressman asserts that the trip was legitimate.
“This is the next step in the process, and I expect that ultimately it will result in an affirmation of my position that the trip was undertaken in the quest for jobs for my constituents and was done with every intention to comply with applicable rules,” Owens said in a statement.
The Ethics Committee was notified by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent group that refers cases to the Ethics Committee, that Owens’s trip may have been a violation of federal laws.
Owens, a Democrat from Plattsburgh, went to Taiwan with his wife, Jane, from Dec. 27, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2012. The couple reportedly stayed in $500 per night hotels, and the total trip cost $22,132.
The Office of Congressional Ethics recommendation to the Ethics Committee says, in part: “The Board of the OCE recommended that the Committee on Ethics further review ... as there is substantial reason to believe that Representative Owens accepted payment of travel expenses for an officially connected trip to Taiwan from an impermissible source, resulting in an impermissible gift, in violation of federal law and House rules.”
Owens, who said he went on the trip to recruit businesses for his district, which includes Clinton, Essex, Franklin and nine other counties, paid back the cost when it became an issue last year.
NO FORMAL PROBE
The trip, and its alleged impropriety, was raised often by Owens’s challenger in last year’s election, Republican Matt Doheny. Owens went on to defeat Doheny to earn his second full term in office.
He was first elected in a special election in 2009 to fill the remaining year on former Congressman John McHugh’s term. McHugh left when he was appointed secretary of the Army in the summer of 2009 by President Barack Obama.
The House Committee on Ethics said it will continue to look into Owens’s trip but will not create an investigative subcommittee to conduct a formal probe.
“The committee notes that the mere fact of conducting further review does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred or reflect any judgement on behalf of the committee,” a statement said.
‘ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION’
Owens said he traveled to Taiwan to meet with representatives from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., a high-tech company that was considering opening a facility in Upstate New York.
Such a venture could potentially create thousands of jobs, Owens said.
He said that he also met with the Taiwanese Chamber of Commerce to promote investment and job creation in Northern New York via the EB5 program, which allows foreign investors in the United States to more easily obtain visas.
“I hold myself and my office to the highest of ethical standards,” Owens said.
“Which is why, in abundance of caution, I have already personally reimbursed the sponsor of the trip for the cost.”
Email Joe LoTemplio:
firstname.lastname@example.orgON THE WEB View the full report on Congressman Bill Owens's trip from the Office of Congressional Ethics at oce.house.gov.