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Taiwan trip takes center stage

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CANTON - It’s not exactly foreign policy, but the small island nation of Taiwan has taken center stage in north country political advertisements all the same.

Republican Matthew A. Doheny and U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, launched television advertisements Monday that tried to convince voters of their side of the story concerning Mr. Owens’s lobbyist-arranged trip to the Asian country in late 2011.

Mr. Doheny’s ad suggested Mr. Owens flouted House ethics rules in taking the trip, which included pricey meals and first-class plane tickets. Mr. Owens, meanwhile, said in his own ad he went to Taiwan only to help bring jobs to upstate New York.

“I went there because a Taiwanese company is considering opening a manufacturing facility in upstate New York. It would mean hundreds of good-paying jobs,” Mr. Owens said in the direct-to-camera appeal, which began airing Monday. “When I found out the trip might have been improperly arranged, I paid for it myself.”

The jousting over the Taiwan trip with two weeks to go in the race signals what is probably the most potent line of attack left in Mr. Doheny’s arsenal, and helps make up a more general argument that Mr. Owens is leaving his north country constituents behind in favor of Washington perks. The Owens campaign portrayed the commercial as the act of a “desperate” opponent. But like most matters in this election, the issue circled from far-away Taiwan all the way back to the familiar shores of the jobs issue.

In March, the investigative website ProPublica reported Mr. Owens’s December trip was arranged by lobbyists, which potentially ran afoul of rules that were set up after the Jack Abramoff scandal in the 2000s. Mr. Abramoff bribed public officials by taking them on expensive trips to the Super Bowl and golf outings. He served time in federal prison for the offenses.

Republican former U.S. Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato’s firm, Park Strategies, arranged the trip. A Taiwanese university picked up the tab, which included airfare, food and lodging for Mr. Owens and his wife.

Good-government lobbyist Craig Holman, who helped write the House rules in question, has said it’s clear Mr. Owens’s trip violated them. He also has said he doesn’t believe Mr. Owens meant to break the rules.

Mr. Owens cut a personal check for the trip’s $22,132 cost after the ethics conflict came to light and said at the time he did it “so that there’s no question that we had good intentions.”

The Doheny campaign, with vaguely Eastern music playing in the background, portrayed that $22,132 check as Mr. Owens trying to “buy his way out of trouble.”

Mr. Owens said he was there to discuss the possibility of the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. coming to New York. The computer chip manufacturer is part of a group of companies helping spur growth in the Albany area, particularly Saratoga County, in the southernmost part of the congressional district for which the men are fighting. The election is Nov. 6, and according to public and private polling, Mr. Owens has a lead. An independent poll in September showed Mr. Owens up by 13 percentage points, with high favorability ratings. A poll commissioned by the Doheny campaign showed Mr. Owens up by 5 percentage points.

According to Mr. Owens’s trip itinerary, he met with a TSMC official once during the trip. The proposal to bring TSMC to New York won wide praise from economic development officials and from U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, according to a Rome Sentinel story written while Mr. Owens was overseas.

Mr. Owens also met with military leaders and the American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei.

Mr. Doheny has said he will be the “salesman in chief” for the 21st Congressional District, but said in an emailed statement he wouldn’t take such trips if he were elected to Congress.

“They are indicative of the culture of corruption that still permeates Washington, and I reject my opponent’s weak suggestion that this trip was somehow for job creation purposes back home,” Mr. Doheny said. “If that’s true, where are the jobs, congressman?”

Mr. Owens responded by saying this isn’t the first time he’s gone to a foreign country to lure a business to New York. He spent years as part of a team that recruited Canadian companies to the Plattsburgh area.

“Many have expanded into New York as a result of those conversations, and some have not,” he said in an emailed statement. “I went to Taiwan last year to continue these efforts, just as I went to Massena last week to meet with representatives of Canadian companies interested in possible New York investments. That’s what it means to be an advocate for economic development in New York.”

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