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Editorial: Despite his protests, Collins has earned an ethics probe

Pity Chris Collins. Not only does he not understand news, he doesn’t understand his own job.

The Clarence congressman is in full flower over reports of the investigation into his cheesy and inappropriate actions regarding stocks he owns. Which is to say, he’s working to leverage his discomfort into a fundraising opportunity – standard operating procedure for politicians caught in the act. And Collins was.

He can protest his purity all he wants and scream to the heavens about “fake news,” but the fact is that he is under investigation and the investigation just got more serious. It may not amount to a serious political threat, given the security blanket offered by his gerrymandered district, but he is in a bind because of his own obtuseness.

At a minimum, Collins took no regard of the need for public officials to avoid the appearance of conflict. The House ethics investigation underway may tell if there is more.

The serious questions being reviewed by his peers include:

• Did Collins use inside knowledge when buying shares of the Australian company Innate? He is the company’s largest stockholder and sits on its board of directors. If so, he may have broken the law.

• Did Collins write a provision into the 21st Century Cures Act in order to benefit Innate? If so, said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, “That would be a very serious violation of House ethics rules. That would mean he’s using his official position to enrich himself.”

Collins’ lawyers are expected to argue that Collins’ amendment benefits not just Innate, but also its competitors. Regardless, the fact is that it could have padded his own bank account. Does anyone think that’s how an honest congressman behaves?

• Did he break a House rule that prohibits members from profiting from their position in office? He was heard promoting the stock on the floor of Congress.

These are serious questions that the Ethics Committee is asking. Collins may believe that fact constitutes “fake news,” but if so, he is ignoring the rules governing his own conduct in office.

Committee members aren’t. Earlier this week, they announced they were looking into the matter, which was referred by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent investigative body. That office makes such referrals in less than 40 percent of cases and only when it has “substantial reason to believe” that a violation of law or House rules may have occurred. That’s news.

Collins would do much better to sit tight and cooperate rather than insulting his peers and his constituents with accusations that are both wild and transparently false. He may be cleared in the end, but the fact is that these issues are under investigation because of actions he took. However it turns out, the investigation is entirely appropriate.

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