If Rep. Peter Roskam is looking for a little advice, the Illinois Republican could turn to New York Democratic Rep. Bill Owens.
On Friday, the House Committee on Ethics announced a probe of Roskam centered on a trip he and his wife took to Taiwan. Owens found himself in a very similar situation last year.
The question the committee is looking at is whether Roskam's trip was funded by the Chinese Culture University (which would be permissible) or, as the independent Office of Congressional Ethics found, "organized and conducted by the government of Taiwan, with little or no involvement by the University" (which would be impermissible). After investigating, OCE referred the matter to the ethics committee.
Roskam and his wife visited Taiwan in October, 2011 (at a time when their daughter was there); Owens and his wife visited Taiwan in December, 2011. The Roskam trip cost more than $25,000; Owens eventually paid back more than $22,000 for his trip. Both trips were ostensibly paid for by the Chinese Culture University. In May of last year, ProPublica reported that lobbyists for Taiwan's government organized the trip. After the report, Owens said that out of "an abundance of caution," he would personally pay back the money spent on the trip. The ethics committee said in February they are reviewing the case.
The NRCC has gone after Owens, who represents a conservative upstate district, on the issue. And in the 2012 campaign, Owens' opponent, Matt Doheny ran an ad attacking him for the trip, with a narrator accusing him of "breaking House rules, embarrassing us." Owens ran his own ad in response, defending the trip as being about job creation, and telling the camera that, "When I found out the trip might have been improperly arranged, I paid for it myself." Owens went on to beat Doheny.
Roskam's office vehemently denied any wrongdoing, saying the trip was fully vetted beforehand. "The trip was vetted and approved by the House Ethics Committee, the body legally authorized to make determinations on Congressional conduct," Roskam spokesperson Stephanie Kittredge said in a statement. "The OCE is wrong to take issue with the involvement of the Government of Taiwan in planning and conducting the trip, a matter that is routine, allowed under the law, and was known to the House Ethics Committee as they thoroughly vetted and approved the trip."
Owens' trip, too, was approved by the House Ethics Committee ahead of time.