Chris Collins, stockbroker?

Chris Collins began his public career when he was elected Erie County Executive in 2007. He served one term and lost his bid for re-election to Mark Poloncarz. Then opportunity knocked.

Congressman Chris Lee got into a minor personal scandal and decided to resign, leading to a special election in May 2011. County Clerk Kathy Hochul was elected to succeed Lee in Congress. In 2012 new congressional districts needed to be drawn but the State Legislature punted on their responsibilities, which led to a New York City judge drawing the new congressional lines. In Western New York the newly drawn districts resulted in Hochul’s new district becoming the most Republican affiliated in the state.

Which led to Collins’ second try for a congressional seat. He had lost an election to Congressman John LaFalce in the 1990’s. The Hochul-Collins campaign was a tough and expensive one which Collins won by a very small margin.

Collins’ arrival in Washington didn’t draw a lot of attention. Even though the Republicans were in the majority in the House, Chris did not accomplish anything of note. And then in 2015, along came Donald Trump.

Collins’ first choice for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination was the establishment-preferred candidate, Jeb Bush. When the Bush campaign flamed out in February 2016, Collins almost immediately moved to support Donald Trump, becoming the first member of Congress to endorse him.

Collins made the most of the endorsement. Given that Trump was volatile and controversial, Collins made a name for himself by repeatedly stepping forward to explain and defend Trump. Collins’ political stock rose with Trump’s. Collins became Trump’s cheerleader-in-chief.

While the public side of Collins was heavily involved with Trump, what most of the Western New York public didn’t know was that Chris was also leading a second private part-time life as a de facto stockbroker. Among Collins’ many investments were some medical device and treatment products.

The one that has now become most prominent was a medication being developed by Australian company Innate Immunotherapeutics for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. Any medicine or treatment that would assist victims of that disease would be most welcomed. Thank goodness for the investments that are made in researching such things and looking for cures or treatments that make serious medical conditions a little easier to bear.

It is not unusual for members of Congress to maintain some side employment, although many do such things mainly to continue their professional licensures. It is not unusual, for example, to read that one of the many doctors in Congress has spent some time providing free health services for people. It is also very common for members of Congress to maintain personal investments. The net worth of your average member of Congress these days exceeds $1 million. Members of Congress receive an annual salary of $174,000.

The average member of Congress, according to the Congressional Ethics Commission, holds investments worth more than $7 million, although that number is distorted somewhat by a number of members whose investments exceed $100 million. Chris Collins’ holdings have been estimated as north of $60 million, making him one of the ten wealthiest members of the House.

While applauding an investment that Collins made in search of a cure or treatment for MS, there are nonetheless issues here that raise questions. Start with Collins’ activities to recruit other investors for the Innate Immunotherapeutics project. Note that Congressman Collins is a member of a House subcommittee that oversees health policies.

It has been reported in the media that Collins was overheard bragging at the Capitol last year about how he made several people millionaires. The beneficiaries of that action were both Western New York residents and members of Congress. It appears that at least as far as stock promotion was concerned, Chris operated the same way that Congress has been functioning on health care – Republicans only, no Democrats allowed. Given what eventually happened with the stock that Collins was pushing, the Republicans are the ones who wound up getting hosed as the stock price of Innate Immunotherapeutics recently collapsed.

Collins’ stock sale activities have gotten him into some hot water. How the Office of Congressional Ethics in a Republican-controlled House will manage to judge their members’ stock trading, particularly as it might involve insider information, will be interesting. The law about such things that Congresswoman Louise Slaughter got approved five years ago (the STOCK Act) provides that members of Congress must disclose all of their stock transactions within 45 days of the buy or sell. Among Collins’ stock “clients” have been four current House members plus former member of Congress and current Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

The recent report that the clinical trials of the Innate Immunotherapeutics product failed is truly unfortunate. Of much lesser importance to most Americans is that the drug’s failure tanked the stock of the company. All those millionaires that Chris created last year were left with worthless paper. Here’s hoping that Chris didn’t burn too many political bridges in DC when his congressional-investing colleagues lost their money.

Depending on whom you might listen to Collins lost between $5 million and $44 million as the value of the stock faded. Fortunately he has other resources to sustain him. No need to set up a “Go Fund Me” account for Chris.

Aside from the ethical questions that remain to be resolved concerning Collins’ stockbroker-like activities, there is also an issue about where Collins’ priorities lie. He was elected to Congress to do some good for his district, which is for the most part comprised of lots of ordinary middle class Americans who do not have the opportunity to get rich on speculative stock information.

Throughout the presidential campaign and afterwards Collins went out of his way to promote and defend Donald Trump, no matter how stupid or egregious the presidential candidate’s actions or statements were. That was then.

The job of Trump, Collins and other members of Congress now is to govern – to pass legislation that improves the lives and opportunities of all Americans. We know that Chris wants to force the State of New York, and only the State of New York, to pick up all of the costs of Medicaid, thus relieving counties, but only upstate counties, from having to pay for Medicaid programs. But where is Collins on such things as which of the ten essential benefit services provided in the Affordable Care Act should be maintained or cut? What about pre-existing conditions? His vote for the “mean” House version of the health care legislation gives the states all sorts of authority to cut benefits. Is Collins just passing the buck to the states instead of standing up and saying cut this but don’t cut that based on how such actions affect people?

What is Collins’ position on the impact of Medicaid cutbacks on the elderly in nursing homes (who use the majority of Medicaid dollars), or the people dealing with opioid issues who rely on Medicaid, or the special education school children whose services may be cut, or the hospitals that will be put under great strain by the financial impact of the Medicaid cutbacks?

And since the health care debate will at some point melt into the debate about taxes, is Collins willing to stand up and defend the interests of his constituents on such things as the deductibility of state and local taxes? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Collins’ unwillingness to face his constituents in public meetings is well known, but he certainly hasn’t been shy about talking to certain people – constituents or not – about what stocks to buy. It’s time to get some priorities straight.

The Buffalo News quoted Collins yesterday as calling Congresswoman Louise Slaughter a “despicable human being” because she has sponsored new legislation amending her original STOCK Act that, among other things, would prohibit members of Congress from investing in an initial public offering overseas and buying discounted stock in a private placement.

On June 14, 2017, following the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise, Spectrum News quoted Collins as saying “While it is apparent that the shooter was a zealot with an intention to cause harm, it is important that we all be cognizant that our words have strong meaning. It’s time for all of us, including myself, to tone down our rhetoric and recognize that we are all of one country and all proud Americans.”

I’ll leave determining the wisdom of Congresswoman Slaughter’s proposed new legislation to our leaders in Washington.  But for the record, Louise Slaughter is not a “despicable human being.”  Louise holds strong beliefs about how this country should operate and she is not afraid to express them.  Last I checked that is still allowed by the Constitution.  Chris, what happened to toning down the political rhetoric?

A belated Happy Independence Day

The following email is from the South Carolina Republican Party. Overlook for a moment the irony of someone from South Carolina celebrating the nation’s 241st birthday. For someone from South Carolina isn’t it really only 237?

I call your attention to the portion of the copy of the Declaration of Independence attached to the email — 2nd paragraph.  Can we in this country really say “We hold these truths to be self-evident” anymore? Would Jefferson have written:  We are all entitled to our own alternative facts, and among them for me are … ?

Fellow SC Republicans, As we celebrate our Nation’s 241st birthday with friends and family members, let us take a moment to remember the bravery of the 56 Founding Fathers that were willing to put their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor on the line in pursuit of our freedom.

If you haven’t done it lately, I encourage all Republicans to take a few minutes and read the text from our Declaration of Independence and recommit ourselves to that vision of America and our individual rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. Happy Independence Day!       Drew McKissick, State Chairman

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776 The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.