WASHINGTON – Rep. Chris Collins encouraged some of his colleagues to invest in the once-obscure Australian biotech firm that he's been heavily invested in for years, and bragged about how much money other members of Congress made on his stock tip, the Hill, a well-respected Capitol Hill daily, reported Thursday.
In a dinner with House GOP colleagues earlier this year, Collins said he previously suggested that lawmakers should buy stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics, the biotech firm in which Collins is the largest shareholder.
"He said that he's made members money," one Republican lawmaker told the Hill.
Asked if "members" referred to members of Congress, that lawmaker replied: "Yes, on his stock tip."
The Hill also reported that Collins met with another group of House Republicans last summer.
"If you get in early, you'll make a big profit," Collins told that group, a lawmaker who was present at that meeting told the Hill.
Asked if Collins had boasted about helping his colleagues make money, that member of Congress said: "I've heard those kinds of phrases."
In total, the Hill spoke with six Republican members of Congress who said they heard Collins, R-Clarence, touting Innate Immunotherapeutics, either in official settings or informal gatherings.
Collins, however, said that never happened.
“I never once talked about that. … I’ve never encouraged anyone to buy the stock. Ever,” he told the Hill in an interview.
The Buffalo News reported last month that the Office of Congressional Ethics was investigating Collins and that investigators had traveled to Buffalo to interview people there who had invested in Innate.
Earlier this year reporters overheard Collins in a cellphone conversation just off the House floor, talking about “how many millionaires I’ve made in Buffalo the past few months.”
And Politico reported last month that five Republican lawmakers – Reps. Mike Conaway and John Culberson of Texas, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, Doug Lamborn of Colorado and Billy Long of Missouri – bought shares in Innate Immunotherapeutics.
Collins has been involved in Innate for more than 15 years, and he has said he thinks the company may be on the verge of a breakthrough treatment for progressive secondary multiple sclerosis.
That being the case, Collins acknowledged to the Hill that he had talked up the company to Buffalo investors.
“I talk about it at every turn, just like you talk about your kids hitting a home run and your daughter getting into law school,” he continued. “In all the things that I’ve done in my business career, I’m most proud of this.”
Asked for further comment based on the Hill story, Collins' spokesperson, Sarah Minkel, denied that Collins had done anything wrong.
“As we have said before, Congressman Collins has followed all ethics rules and laws when it comes to his investments," Minkel said. "As he would about the success of his children, he has never been shy about talking about the work of Innate Immuntherapeutics and its potential for a groundbreaking drug that treats advanced multiple sclerosis, a horrible disease that impacts millions of individuals."
Minkel said that without Collins' investment in Innate, that groundbreaking drug may never have come as far as it has.
“Anyone who makes investments such as this one, does so with risks, making it a very personal decision," Minkel added. "While Congressman Collins has taken that risk with his own investment, he would never urge anyone else to take that same risk."