Attention continues to focus on Rep. Chris Collins and his investments in the health care industry.
The Daily Beast website intensified the spotlight Wednesday by reporting that the Clarence Republican stands out among 40 GOP members of Congress who voted for the American Health Care Act while owning stock in health care companies. Collins holds the most stock of any representative – $6.5 million in two local medical device firms.
The publication said Collins’ stake in ZeptoMetrix and Audubon Machinery Corp. is significant because the AHCA would benefit the companies by eliminating billions of dollars in taxes and fees now imposed on medical device firms. The story also noted that the $23 million in investments by the 40 Republicans who voted for the bill are not illegal but raise conflict of interest concerns among ethics lawyers and good government types.
Collins spokesman Michael Kracker blamed the latest report on “partisan attacks.”
“Congressman Collins has followed all congressional ethical guidelines related to his personal finances during his time in the House and will continue to do so,” Kracker said. “Congressman Collins’ history as a Western New York entrepreneur is well known, and he has been fully transparent as a member of Congress, listing all of his business interests on his personal financial disclosure each year.
“The local companies he is involved in provide over 200 good paying Western New Yorkers jobs,” Kracker added.
The newest report surfaces after The Buffalo News reported last week that the Office of Congressional Ethics was investigating Collins’ dealings with an Australian biotech company. The ethics office – an independent, nonpartisan entity charged with reviewing allegations of misconduct against members, officers and staff – is concentrating on his investments in Innate Immunotherapeutics. The office is probing any potential role played by Collins, the firm’s largest shareholder, in persuading investors to buy stock in the company.
Earlier this year, reporters overheard Collins in a cellphone conversation just off the House floor, saying “how many millionaires I’ve made in Buffalo the past few months.”
Since then, the ethics office has received at least four complaints involving Collins and his Innate investments. The complaints note that Collins was involved last year in legislation that could benefit Innate, raising questions about whether he violated a law that prohibits federal lawmakers from profiting on inside information when making investments.
New concerns were also raised on Wednesday by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport, who in 2012 won passage of the STOCK Act, which prohibits insider trading by members of Congress, their staff and other government employees. The law is intended to bar members of Congress from taking part in initial public offerings not available to the general public regardless of where the stock is listed.
“I wrote the STOCK Act and led the six-year fight to get it signed into law so the public could trust that members of Congress weren’t using their office for personal profit,” Slaughter said. “This investigation is deeply troubling and raises concerns that dozens of Republicans voted for the health care repeal bill while having a financial stake in the outcome.
“Members of Congress should recuse themselves from voting on legislation that impacts their own financial interest,” she added, before referring also to the former Georgia congressman – now health and human services secretary – who also bought discounted stock after being told about it by Collins. “It has been one scandal after another for members of the majority, from Tom Price, to Chris Collins, to the congressmen mentioned in this new report.”