FORT EDWARD -- U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said Thursday he expects to be exonerated by the House Ethics Committee, after the Office of Congressional Ethics late Wednesday found evidence that his 2011 trip to Taiwan was funded by a lobbying firm, a potential violation of federal law and House rules.
“We think that, ultimately, it will work out in our favor,” Owens said, before a meet-and-greet with Washington County supervisors. “We went there thinking we had fully complied with the rules.”
OCE’s recommendation to the Ethics Committee found “substantial reason to believe” Owens’ trip inappropriately was funded and organized by the Taiwanese government and its lobbying agency, Park Strategies LLC., a firm owned by New York’s former Republican senator, Alfonse D’Amato.
Owens initially reported to the House that his trip was instead funded by the Chinese Culture University of Taiwan.
Owens’ wife traveled with him on the December 2011 trip, which Owens said was intended to court Taiwanese business potentially interested in coming to upstate New York.
Owens initially filed for travel funding under the federal Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act program. But he had to find alternative funding when his wife, Jane, opted to join him, and Owens’ staff initiated communications with Park Strategies, according to emails obtained by the OCE investigation.
The correspondences between Owens’ staff and Park Strategies were included in a lengthy OCE report.
D’Amato and the Chinese Culture University refused to cooperate with the OCE investigation, the report states.
Owens strongly disputed Thursday any involvement by a lobbying agency.
The Ethics Committee said in a statement that “conducting further review ... does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the committee.”
House Republicans hold a solid majority in the lower house.
But Owens said he doesn’t believe the Ethics Committee decision to continue the investigation is politically motivated.
“I think the House Ethics Committee works at a professional level,” he said. “I’m not concerned about that.”
It’s unclear if the Chinese Culture University reimbursed the Taiwanese government following Owens’ visit, the report states. Owens cut a personal check last May for $22,000 to the university following media reports of questions surrounding the trip.
Owens went to Taiwan to talk specifically with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd, he said. The company has been “nosing around” certain parts of upstate New York, he said.
“Anything that can bring jobs you should do. That was the purpose of the trip,” he said.
Owens was promoted last month to the influential Appropriations Committee, even as the OCE was completing its recommendation to the Ethics Committee.
He expects the entire issue to be soon put to bed.
“There’s nothing I have control of in this situation, so it’s part of the process,” he said. “We will fully cooperate with them and we hope to get this resolved very quickly.”