ProPublica

Journalism in the Public Interest

Cancel

Democratic Congressman Takes Heat For Lobbyist-Organized Taiwan Trip

ProPublica reported on Bill Owens’ trip to Taiwan earlier this year. Now his opponent is attacking him over the trip in a campaign ad.

A screenshot from an ad by Republican congressional candidate Matt Doheny attacking Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y.

Oct. 25: This post has been updated with a pair of new ads — one each from the Doheny and Owens camps — focusing on the Taiwan trip. 

Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., running for reelection in a tight race in northern New York, is under attack over a trip to Taiwan that broke House ethics rules.

In May, ProPublica first reported that the 2011 trip Owens took with his wife was organized by Park Strategies, the lobbying firm of former senator Al D’Amato that works for the government of Taiwan. House ethics rules bar members of Congress from taking most trips organized by lobbyists. Owens reimbursed the $22,000 cost of the trip after our story was published.

Now, Republican challenger Matt Doheny has taken aim at Owens over the issue. This ad has been running on Albany TV stations since Oct. 3 and in Watertown since Oct. 9, according to the Doheny campaign:

During a debate Tuesday hosted by NBC affiliate WPTZ, Owens was also asked what he learned from the Taiwan trip episode.

“That’s a thing that can happen in this complex world that we live in and we need to act responsible and take responsibility for it,” Owens said.

The exchange starts at 47:50 on the debate video.

Here’s the full exchange:

MODERATOR: Last Christmas, you and your wife took a trip to Taiwan. Four days, $20,000, trip arranged by lobbyists. After the details were made public on a website, you reimbursed for the expense of that trip. What did you learn from that episode?

OWENS: Well, we thought that we were abiding by the rules. There were some questions raised. In response to those questions we decided to take the step of repaying that money. And we believe that still we did everything in accordance with the rules to the best of our knowledge at the time. And we took the step that we thought was appropriate to correct it by paying that money back. That’s a thing that can happen in this complex world that we live in, and we need to act responsible and take responsibility for it.

This year’s race in the 21st district is a rematch from 2010; that year, a third candidate ran on the Conservative line and Owens barely beat his challenger Doheny.

An internal Doheny campaign poll released earlier this month showed him trailing Congressman Owens by five points among likely voters. A poll in early September showed Doheny trailing by 13 points. 

The Doheny camp on Oct. 22 released a second ad taking direct aim at Owens for the Taiwan trip. As the Watertown Daily Times notes, the spot features “vaguely eastern music playing in the background.”

The spot cites our reporting on the trip, which was co-published with Politico.

NBC affiliate WPTZ pointed out that the ad features an image of the Chinese flag, rather than the Taiwanese flag, perhaps because of anti-China sentiment over economic issues that has come up during the campaign. (China considers Taiwan a renegade province.)

When a WPTZ reporter asked Doheny about the flag issue, he chuckled and did not comment directly.

The Owens camp released its own ad in response, featuring the candidate speaking directly to the camera and explaining that the purpose of the trip was to attract Taiwanese business to New York.

While it’s difficult to imagine a Congressman believing that it’s OK for someone to pay them to leave the country (other than angry constituents), the timing does make one wonder if this was a setup of some sort.

But, then, admittedly, I wonder that about pretty much everything.

Have you noticed that there has been no blow-back over last summer’s AIPAC financed trip to Israel for 80 mostly Republican members of Congress… their wives and senior staffers…where.Rep.[R]  Yoder went swimming nude in the Sea of Galilee…....

Does this means that Lobbyist paid for trips to Israel are OK..???

PDLane, according to the Ethics Committee website, the deal seems to be that the sky’s still the limit, but it’s subject to committee approval.

ethics.house.gov/travel/faqs-about-travel

So you’d have to check to see if he had permission, probably starting at disclosures.house.gov.

@pdlane AIPAC actually gets around the rules by setting up a related nonprofit that pays for the trips:
http://www.rollcall.com/issues/57_26/House_Members_Flock_to_Israel_With_Travel_Loophole_AIPAC-208599-1.html

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Buying Your Vote

Buying Your Vote: Dark Money and Big Data

ProPublica is following the money and exploring campaign issues in the 2012 election you won't read about elsewhere.

Get Updates

Stay on top of what we’re working on by subscribing to our email digest.

optional

Our Hottest Stories

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •