* You may have seen this story…
The House Ethics Committee announced Friday it was probing Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) without detailing what was at issue. Roskam’s office disclosed that at issue was a trip he took with his wife to Taiwan in October, 2011–at a time his daughter was living in Taiwan.
At issue is whether the $25,652 costs for the trip were paid for by the Chinese Culture University–a permitted funder — or as the independent Office of Congressional Ethics asserts, the Roskam visit was “organized and conducted by the government of Taiwan, with little to no involvement by the University,” which would make it an impermissible funding source.
Roskam is the Chief Deputy Whip, a top member of the House GOP leadership team. Roskam’s office released documents associated with the investigation and said Roskam has done nothing wrong and got advance permission for the trip. Roskam has retained the law firm of Patton Boggs to represent him and has been paying the firm through his campaign fund.
Interesting that he retained one of the top DC lobbying firms to represent him in this matter.
Also, isn’t 25 grand a whole lot of cash for a single week in Taiwan? Living large.
According to the OCE report on Roskam, the Illinois Republican’s office was contacted in May 2011 by an official for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, which is Taiwan’s “de facto” embassy in the United States.
The TECRO official, Gordon Yang, asked whether Roskam was interested in taking part in a congressional delegation traveling to the Asian nation in late June 2011. Under the Mutual Educations and Cultural Exchange Act, foreign governments are allowed to pay for such trips. However, a lawmaker cannot accept travel expenses for a spouse or family member.
According to the OCE report, a Roskam aide told Yang that the Illinois Republican wanted to take his wife to Taiwan with him. Since the Taiwanese government could not cover the cost of Elizabeth Roskam’s expenses, a private sponsor for the trip needed to be found.
On July 19, 2o12, Yang sent Roskam’s office an itinerary for the trip saying it would be sponsored by the Chinese Culture University, located in Taipei. Yang even said he would forward documents saying CCU was the sponsor that could be filed with the Ethics Committee. Yang provided a copy of an official invitation to Roskam from CCU as well, the OCE report states. […]
OCE’s report asserts that “While the Chinese University was identified as the private sponsor of Representative Roskam’s trip, the travel arrangements and itinerary continued to be planned by Taiwanese government officials.”
* This isn’t the first time that the Chinese Culture University has been implicated in a congressional travel scandal…
Two days after Christmas last year, Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) and his wife, Jane, boarded a first-class flight to Taiwan for a four-day tour of the island. Owens and his wife roomed at $500-a-night luxury hotels and enjoyed fine meals between meetings with Taiwanese officials and a day trip to Taipei’s famed National Palace Museum.
The Chinese Culture University in Taiwan had ostensibly invited the congressman and his wife “to promote international cultural exchange.” In fact, lobbyists for Taiwan’s government had organized the trip. Congressional ethics rules prohibit members from participating in most trips arranged by lobbyists.
Although Owens filed a travel disclosure with the House Ethics Committee that identifies the trip’s sponsor as the Culture University, email messages and other documents reviewed by ProPublica show that lobbyists from the New York firm Park Strategies, founded by former New York Sen. Al D’Amato, had invited Owens on the trip and spent four months organizing it.
A rule passed by Congress after the Jack Abramoff scandal states: “Member and staff participation in officially-connected travel that is in any way planned, organized, requested, or arranged by a lobbyist is prohibited.” […]
The Constitution bars gifts from foreign governments to U.S. officials unless Congress specifically authorizes them. But under the MECEA law, the State Department can approve programs to promote culture exchange that are proposed by other countries. Once a program is approved — Taiwan’s was OK’d in 2006 — members of Congress can take a qualifying trip paid by that government.
But Owens’ trip was not paid under MECEA, which strictly applies to programs funded by foreign governments. Instead, a private entity — the Chinese Culture University — was brought in to pay for it. Spouses and other family members are not allowed to go on MECEA trips, and Owens’s wife was to accompany him, emails show.
Like with Roskam, Congressman Owens’ trip was also approved ahead of time. He paid back the cash.
But unlike Roskam, Owens’ trip was apparently arranged by a lobbying firm. The difference here is that Roskam’s trip may have been funded by the Taiwanese government.
* Roskam heatedly denied any wrongdoing…
“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.”.
* Important to keep in mind…
In a brief statement, the committee said the members “have jointly decided to extend the matter regarding Representative Peter Roskam, which was transmitted to the Committee by the Office of Congressional Ethics on June 13, 2013.”
That office is an independent non-partisan investigative body which works out of public view.The office, established by the House of Representatives, is, “charged with receiving and reviewing allegations of misconduct concerning House Members and staff and, when appropriate, referring matters to the Committeeon Ethics.
The ethics panel statement added, “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.
* And he still has Speaker Boehner’s confidence…
When asked if Speaker Boehner was comfortable with Congressman Roskam continuing as Chief Deputy Whip while under investigation, Boehner’s spokeman, Michael Steel replied “of course.”