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EDITORIAL: Owens wrong to take Taiwan trip

2012-05-19T22:35:00Z 2012-05-21T13:59:45Z EDITORIAL: Owens wrong to take Taiwan trip Glens Falls Post-Star
May 19, 2012 10:35 pm

Rep. Bill Owens has repaid the $22,000 a Taiwan university spent to fly him and his wife to Taiwan in December 2011 and put them up in luxury hotels and feed them fine meals for four days, and we’re supposed to be satisfied with that.

But we’re not satisfied. We’re envious and appalled.

First the envy: We’d love to have someone offering to pay for our extravagant trips to fascinating places.

Next the outrage: This guy works for us! And he’s calling this deluxe vacation work!

Put aside for the moment how the trip was arranged and how underhanded the whole escapade was. We think Owens, who will soon be seeking to represent the local area in Congress, can find more effective ways to spend his time than jetting to Taiwan with his wife for four days of fine dining and a tour of Taipei’s National Palace Museum.

It’s an insult to all the hard-working people in Owens’ district for him to call a trip like this “work.”

But even if you believe the blather from Owens about promoting upstate New York in meetings with Taiwanese officials and business representatives, this trip broke the rules.

Owens opened his wallet after a May 10 article by Justin Elliott for the investigative journalism website ProPublica revealed details of the trip, including that a lobbying firm, Park Strategies of New York, had set it up on behalf of its client, the government of Taiwan.

Taiwan dwells in the shadow of its monstrous neighbor, China, so currying favor with a powerful friend like the U.S. must always seem like a good idea. Taiwan also has a more immediate motivation for giving gifts to U.S. politicians — the country is trying to persuade the U.S. government to sell it F-16 fighter jets.

Park Strategies is registered as a foreign agent for Taiwan, as are the two executives for the firm who set up Owens’ trip, John Zagame and Sean King. Sean King is the son of U.S. Rep. Peter King, a congressman from downstate New York. Peter King is good friends with a former U.S. senator from New York, Al D’Amato, who is the founder of Park Strategies.

It’s incestuous, and it gets worse.

According to the excellent reporting done by ProPublica’s Elliot, after Owens returned from his trip, several Park Strategies executives, including Sean King and Al D’Amato’s brother, Armand, and Al D’Amato’s son, Christopher, made cash donations to Owens’ campaign, amounting to $3,500. Al D’Amato’s wife, Katuria, tossed another $2,500 into the pot.

And there’s this: Last July, before planning for the Taiwan trip got going, Owens signed a letter backing the sale of F-16 jets to Taiwan.

We are encouraged Owens, instead of hiding from questions, has faced the press and pledged never to take a lobbyist-organized trip again. What distinguished this trip from many others taken by U.S. representatives, and made it wrong, was the involvement of Park Strategies.

Owens has pointed out the House Ethics Committee cleared the trip in advance, although he did not disclose Park Strategies’ role to the committee, which is like a teenager saying Mom OK’d using the car, although he didn’t tell her he was driving to a keg party.

Owens has said the Ethics Committee’s form did not ask whether lobbyists were involved, but if you look at the form, it does ask for all sponsors of the trip and defines sponsors as those who organize and conduct the trip, as well as pay for it.

In Owens’ case, the Chinese Culture University was the purported sponsor, and paid for the trip. But the real sponsor was the Taiwanese government, working through its agent, Park Strategies. The trip’s unstated but obvious purpose was to instill in Owens a sense of obligation to Taiwan, to influence his political positions on matters such as the F-16 sale.

What is discouraging about this story is how common it is for members of Congress to take such trips and how readily their flimsy justifications are accepted, both by government officials and members of the public.

Representatives say they are trying to understand the culture or make business contacts, and they are granted license to go off jet-setting, with nothing better to do than have lunch at some “divine little place” in Taipei or Tel Aviv.

Even if Park Strategies had not been involved with Owens’ trip to Taiwan, it would have been an unseemly and unnecessary junket.

Getting elected should be seen as an opportunity for public service, not fancy vacations with your wife. If you’re in Congress and you think your time is best spent on sight-seeing in the world’s great places, we have a suggestion: Retire.

Local editorials represent the opinion of The Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rick Emanuel, Editor Ken Tingley and citizen representative Jody Chwiecko.

Copyright 2015 Glens Falls Post-Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. hcf
    Report Abuse
    hcf - May 21, 2012 2:46 pm
    I found this editorial quite biased and more like the sensationalism journalism I expect in the NY Post than a credible local paper. It was even more discouraging to see the "correction" changing the most damming word, "illegal" changed in the dot com post. As has been stated in the majority of the comments, "Staying Home" is the wrong answer.
    We are in a global and interconnected world with a shifting US national security and economic interests toward Asia and the Pacific, where Tiawan plays an important role. We have a long friendship here, and I for one am happy to see Congressman Owens venture there than most other places. As for the insinuation that accepting campaign contributions is somehow wrong, this is disnigenuous given the lack of campaign reform that the Republicans have stymied. I beleive seeing things first hand and establishing personal relationships is incredibly valuable in leading the country and Congress as this important role.
  2. quillerm
    Report Abuse
    quillerm - May 20, 2012 2:21 pm
    Representative Owens was doing his job in going to Taiwan for business gains in the US. It doesn't just involve F-16's but at 20 million each it's a good start. Politicians are suppose to find new sources of revenue for our State's businesses. Exploring opportunities with the millions of people of Taiwan is far better than China. He could just sit in Albany passing legislation for more spending programs, adding millions to our Nations and States debt, but we have democrats taking care of that. If a politician can get a free trip to Taiwan, or any other place, to help New York out of it's massive debt, great. But there will always be those who spin a story to allege criminal conduct where none exists, it's all politics.
  3. RichP
    Report Abuse
    RichP - May 20, 2012 10:45 am
    I'm not surprised by this type of behavior from a politician. Today's politicians seem to be driven by money, power and ego. They all seem to be self-serving narcissists. For every uncovered scandal, you can bet that there are five more that remain secret.
  4. Mike Flynn 'Middle Class Mike'
    Report Abuse
    Mike Flynn 'Middle Class Mike' - May 20, 2012 8:10 am
    The trip was a job creation attempt to benefit NNY, and clarity was an Issue for RepOwens not Dishonesty:

    “Lobbyists for Taiwan’s government had organized the trip. Congressional ethics rules prohibit members from participating in ‘MOST’ trips arranged by lobbyists. Although Owens filed a travel disclosure with the House Ethics Committee that identifies the trip’s sponsor as the ‘Culture University’, email 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.”

    Rep. Owens as a courtesy spoke to Park Strategies the D’Amato lobbyist group. How many Congressmen wouldn’t talk to Peter King’s son or a former like Sen. Al D’Amato. Rep. Bill Owens felt that the sponsorship of the trip by ‘Culture University’ and the full disclosure of this trip to the ‘House Ethics Committee’ was the approval he needed.

    Mike Flynn MCM

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