A report by the House of Representatives' Office of Congressional Ethics says that there is "substantial reason" to beleive that Representative Chris Collins violated federal law with his actions related to an Australian biotech firm.
WASHINGTON — The House Ethics Committee said Thursday it was extending its review of Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York, whose stock market trades prompted an advocacy group to request an investigation for possible violation of insider trading or conflict of interest.
Collins, who has denied any wrongdoing, was the largest shareholder of Australia's Innate Immunotherapeutics Limited and sat on the company's board of directors. Advocacy groups had said Collins, R-Clarence, sponsored legislation that could potentially benefit the company.
As part of its extension, the Ethics Committee also released the findings of the independent Office of Congressional Ethics. The OCE had referred the Collins case to the committee in July. Its 29-page report was made public for the first time.
The OCE reviewed three allegations:
— Collins may have shared material, nonpublic information about Innate Immunotherapeutics in the purchase of the company's stock.
— Collins attended a meeting at the National Institutes of Health in November 2013 and in that meeting requested an NIH employee meet with Innate employees to assist in drug trial designs.
— Collins may have purchased stock unavailable to the public and that was offered to him based on his status as a member of the House.
The OCE's board recommended the committee further review the first two allegations because there was "substantial reason to believe" Collins shared nonpublic information in the purchase of Innate stock and that he took official actions or requested official actions that would assist a single entity in which he had a significant financial interest.
The board recommended the dismissal of the allegation that Collins purchase discounted stock unavailable to the public and offered to him based on his status as a lawmaker.
"Throughout my tenure in Congress I have followed all rules and ethical guidelines when it comes to my personal investments," Collins said upon the release of the OCE's report. "I was elected to Congress based upon my success in the private sector, and my willingness to use that experience every day to facilitate an environment that creates economic opportunity and jobs."
Collins thanked the committee for its review in the case and "for the tough work they do to hold all members of Congress accountable to the highest standards of conduct."
Innate Immunotherapeutics stock value has tanked by more than 94 percent during recent months and now trades for pennies a share. The company's prospects tanked after its multiple sclerosis drug failed to demonstrate a meaningful benefit for patients.
A source close to the congressman, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private actions, said Collins invested about $5 million in the company over the years and did not sell any of his shares.
Collins, one of President Trump's closest allies in Congress, represents the 27th District, which includes the western half of Ontario County including Canandaigua, Farmington and Victor; as well as portions of Monroe, Erie and Niagara counties and all of Livingston, Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
Turn 27 Blue — a coalition of grassroots leadership and the eight county Democratic chairs within the 27th District, including Ontario County's John Hurley and Monroe County's Jamie Romeo — called on Collins "to leave all corporate boards on which he serves and divest himself of all investments that create potential conflicts of interest and begin immediately to do the job he was elected to do: serve as our congressman and actually represent us instead of his portfolio," according to a release from the Monroe County Democratic Committee.
Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, who had asked the House Ethics Committee and other entities to investigate Collins, noted in a release Thursday that actions by Collins and others led to her introducing the End Congressional Stock Market Abuse Act, which would strengthen the earlier STOCK Act she introduced in 2006.
"Anyone who has the privilege to be a member of Congress has a responsibility to uphold the public trust and meet the highest ethical standard," Slaughter, who represents the 25th District, stated. "I wrote the STOCK Act and fought for six years to get it signed into law for precisely that reason. I called for the Ethics Committee to investigate Congressman Collins given all the evidence that suggests he used his position in the public trust for his own personal gain."
The STOCK Act, signed into law in 2012, prohibits insider trading by members of Congress, their staff, and other government employees, among other stipulations. Her more recent bill would close loopholes in the earlier act, Slaughter's office noted.
Messenger Post Media contributed to this report.