Rep. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., is ordering ethics training for his staff following a ProPublica story on a trip the congressman and his wife took to Taiwan that was organized by lobbyists.
House rules bar members from going on trips arranged by lobbyists. Owens announced that he was reimbursing $22,000 to the trip's official sponsor, a university in Taiwan, the day after we co-published the story with Politico. Owens and his wife enjoyed $500-a-night luxury hotels during his stay. The firm that organized the trip, Park Strategies, works for the government of Taiwan. Emails show Park lobbyists inviting the congressman on the trip and organizing it over four months.
In an interview with the editorial board of the Post-Star in Glen Falls, N.Y., Owens said, "I'm bringing in an expert on House ethics to give a seminar to my staff. Because that's the advice I would have given to a client when I was a lawyer. If you have a screw up in the office, fix it, prospectively."
Owens continued: "Uncomfortable? Yes. But the reason I paid the money back was because once the issue was brought to the fore, I said, 'I'm not standing for this.' We heard about this on Thursday morning, and I acted by Friday at noon time."
The group Public Citizen has also called on the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate Park Strategies. The firm, which was founded by former Sen. Al D'Amato and employs the son of Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., has denied wrongdoing.