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Petition pushes House Ethics Committee to complete Collins probe

WASHINGTON — More than 11,000 people have signed a petition aimed at pushing the House Ethics Committee to complete its investigation into whether Rep. Chris Collins, a Clarence Republican, engaged in insider stock trading.

Public Citizen, a good-government group founded by Ralph Nader in the early 1970s, sent the petition to the Ethics Committee Thursday, roughly six months after the panel announced that it would keep open its probe into Collins' stock trades.

“The House ethics committee could have pursued one of two options: Either dismiss the complaint or pursue the complaint with a formal investigation,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Instead, the committee found a third option – declining to dismiss or investigate, pending further review. That was a half-year ago.”

Now, Public Citizen said, the Ethics Committee should pursue a full investigation of both Collins and former Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican who later served briefly as President Trump's health secretary.

Public Citizen questions whether Price also benefited from insider information in his purchase the stock of Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech in which Collins is the largest investor. Collins touted the stock to Price and several other members of Congress.

The petition reads: “We, the undersigned, call on the House ethics committee to proceed with a formal investigation into Rep. Chris Collins and former Rep. Tom Price for potential insider trading. If there is good reason to believe members of Congress have broken the law to make a profit, it is critical that we hold them accountable to the fullest extent possible.”

How biotech's miracle 'cure' became a poison pill for Chris Collins

Asked for comment, Collins' political adviser, Christopher M. Grant, called the petition a political document pushed by Democrats.

"The fact that 99 percent of the signatures came from outside the district, on this online petition manufactured by God-knows-who, shows how political Democrats are trying to make this," Grant said.

A Buffalo News review of the petition confirmed that only about 1 percent of the 11,709 signatures came from Western New York, but Holman stressed that the petition was not intended to be a local effort.

"The real purpose of the petition is to prompt the House Ethics Committee to do its job," he said. "And that's a national concern, so we did a national petition."

The petition was available for signing on the Public Citizen webpage for about a week, Holman said.

Tom Rust, chief counsel and staff director for the House Ethics Committee, declined to comment on the petition or the Collins investigation.

The committee announced in late August of last year that it was keeping open its investigation into Collins' involvement with Innate Immunotherapeutics.

Several weeks later, the committee released an Office of Congressional Ethics report said there is "a substantial reason to believe" that Collins violated federal law by touting Innate's stock of an obscure Australian biotech firm based on inside information. That investigative office said Collins also may have broken House ethics rules by persuading National Institutes of Health officials to meet with a staffer from that company.

But since the release of that report in October, the Ethics Committee has not said where things stand with its investigation into Collins.

That's not unusual, said Lisa Gilbert, vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen.

“The House Ethics Committee has a history of delaying, avoiding or choosing to forego investigations, often taking so long that the cases get dropped when the member resigned or lost their re-election bid, thus escaping accountability,” she said.

The committee probing Collins: an investigative lamb, not a lion

Collins has maintained his innocence throughout the probe, and Grant reiterated that point on Thursday. He noted that Collins has routinely cleared his investments with the Ethics Committee since he first ran for his current seat in Congress in 2012.

"We've said from day one that Chris fully complied with the law," Grant said. "We have absolute confidence that the Ethics Committee will find no wrongdoing here."

Public Citizen, which bills itself as "the people’s voice in the nation’s capital," regularly pushes for government ethics and lobbying reform through its Congress Watch division. Public Citizen also advocates for clean energy, financial reform aimed at benefiting consumers and several other policy changes.

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