Ethics continues probe of Schock and Owens

The House Ethics Committee announced on Wednesday that it is continuing to conduct preliminary investigations into allegations against Reps. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) and Bill Owens (D-N.Y.).

But the Ethics panel stopped short of launching formal investigatory subcommittees to look into the separate charges against the lawmakers.

The secretive committee also released reports on Schock and Owens, completed by the outside Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which referred the matters to the panel last year. The OCE’s investigation found there was “substantial reason to believe” both Schock and Owens violated House rules.

Schock is accused of asking House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) for a $25,000 contribution to help him defeat Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s (R-Ill.) primary opponent last year, violating the $5,000 limit that a single donor can make.

Owens is accused of taking an official trip to Taiwan that was paid for and organized by the country and it's U.S.-based lobbyists.

Schock’s office said the allegations are “entirely without merit” and stressed that the Ethics Committee is likely to dismiss the charges once it is done investigating the matter.

“There are many cases that OCE refers to the Ethics Committee that ultimately are dismissed because they are without merit,” said Schock spokesman Steve Dutton.

“As our counsel’s submissions to OCE and the Ethics Committee make clear, the complaint in this case is entirely without merit. We remain firmly convinced that Congressman Schock will be exonerated when the Ethics Committee examines the complaint and in due course resolves this matter,” Dutton said.

Owens also said he expects the Ethics probe to exonerate him and that he has paid back the cost of the Taiwan trip.

“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,” Owens said in a statement.

“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,” he said.

In late 2011 Owens and his wife flew to Taiwan, listing the Chinese Culture University as the trip’s sponsor on official disclosure documents filed with the Ethics Committee.

But the OCE determined that the government of Taiwan actually paid for the trip and the country’s lobbying firm, Park Strategies, organized the visit. The OCE said it was unable to determine whether the Chinese Culture University in turn reimbursed the Taiwan government for the cost of the trip.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) is Taiwan’s de facto U.S. embassy, which uses Park Strategies, a lobbying firm headed by former Sen. Al D’Amato (R-N.Y.), to represent its interests.

Owens said he took the trip to meet with officials at the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp, a high-tech company that was considering whether to open a facility in New York. He said he also met with the Taiwan Chamber of Commerce and “promoted investment and job creation in Northern New York via the EB5 program, which allows foreign investors in the US economy to obtain U.S. visas.”

Schock’s case is different.

In March of last year, Schock called Cantor — who is referred to as “Representative 1” in the OCE’s report — and asked him to give $25,000 to the Campaign for Primary Accountability (CPA) to support Kinzinger in his primary race against former Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Ill.). Cantor said he would and was given the green light from a legal consultant employed by his political action committee, according to interviews conducted by the OCE.  He made the contribution from his ERIC PAC.

But the law holds that “no multicandidate political committee shall make contributions to any other political committee in any calendar year which, in the aggregate, exceed $5,000.”

The OCE has asked the Ethics committee to subpoena four witnesses, who refused to cooperate with the outside panel’s investigation, including the former budget director for Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) who allegedly bundled $120,000 for the CPA to use against Manzullo.