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House Ethics Confirms Cases of Owens, Schock

The House Ethics Committee confirmed Friday that it has received cases related to Reps. Bill Owens, D-N.Y., and Aaron Schock, R-Ill., from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

The committee will announce its next steps on or before Jan. 28, at which point the OCE’s report on the two lawmakers will be released unless an investigative subcommittee is formed to conduct a formal probe.

“The Committee notes that the mere fact of a referral or an extension, and the mandatory disclosure of such an extension and the name of the subject of the matter, does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred, or reflect any judgment on behalf of the Committee,” a joint statement from Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., said.

Owens took a privately financed trip to Taiwan that was at the invitation of the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan but had in fact been arranged in part by lobbyists for the country’s government at Park Strategies, a firm founded by former Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato of New York.

The investigative news outlet ProPublica published a series of stories on the trip, detailing how documents filed by Park Strategies under the Foreign Agents Registration Act showed that D’Amato and others at Park Strategies, including the son of Republican Rep. Peter T. King of New York, helped arrange the trip.

After the lobbyist link surfaced, Owens announced that he would reimburse the university. His aides have since received training to help them rebuff any questionable trip requests in the future.

“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 all applicable rules. I hold myself and my office to the highest of ethical standards. Which is why, in abundance of caution, I have already personally reimbursed the sponsor of the trip for the cost,” Owens said in a statement.

The New York Democrat met with representatives of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. during the trip in hopes of pitching upstate New York as a new site for the computer-chip manufacturer.

Earlier this year, in a report on Congressional nepotism, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington highlighted Schock’s use of his campaign account to reimburse himself for more than $150,000 in expenses during the 2008 and 2010 election cycles. More than $30,000 of that went to pay for hotels, including high-priced resorts. A $300 expense for a P90X fitness DVD was listed as a “health care” cost.

In April, based on CQ Roll Call’s reporting, watchdog groups asked the Federal Election Commission to investigate whether Schock violated campaign finances law by asking House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to contribute $25,000 to the anti-incumbent super PAC Campaign for Primary Accountability to support incoming Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.

A Schock representative confirmed Friday night that the ethics case is related to the super PAC contribution.

“This is the next step in an ongoing process. We remain confident that this matter will be resolved positively,” Schock spokesman Steve Dutton said.

The OCE is an independent fact-finding agency that was created by the House in 2008 to review allegations of wrongdoing within the chamber. Once it sends a matter for further review, the Ethics Committee, in most cases, must release the ethics office’s findings after 45 days or issue a public statement that it is extending consideration of the matter for another 45-day period. The Owens and Schock announcements were delayed because of an election-time rule that pauses the clock until ballots have been cast.

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