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In wake of Collins arrest, Warren offers ethics reforms

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has offered the boldest proposal yet for preventing members of Congress from becoming the next Rep. Chris Collins.

To make sure lawmakers like Collins won't partake in illegal insider stock trading schemes, members of Congress should be barred from owning any individual stocks, Warren said Tuesday.

"Enough of the spectacle of HHS secretaries and herds of congressmen caught up in insider trading schemes," Warren said, in an indirect reference to the stock tip that Collins gave to then-Rep. Tom Price, who later went on to serve as President Trump's first health secretary.

"It's time to ban elected officials and senior agency officials from owning or trading any company stocks while in office," she said. "They can put their savings in conflict-free investments like mutual funds or they can pick a different line of work."

Warren included that proposal in a wide-ranging series of ethics reforms she proposed in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. And she did it on a day, when:

  • The president's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight felony charges.
  • Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to eight felony charges.
  • Rep. Duncan Hunter – the second Republican, after Collins, to endorse Trump for president – was indicted on charges that he used campaign funds for personal use.
  • Rep. Tom Reed, a Republican from Corning, joined Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Long Island Democrat, in formalizing their proposal to bar lawmakers from serving on corporate boards.

Collins' arrest on Aug. 8, along with Trump's continued stake in the businesses that make him a billionaire, helped set the tone for Warren's speech.

"Stop self-dealing by public officials," she said. "If a person works for the government, then that work should serve the public. No making policy decisions to help yourself instead of taxpayers."

Warren also harshly criticized politicians who continue to own businesses while serving the public in government office.

"Presidents should not be able to own companies on the side," she said. "And we shouldn't have to beg candidates to let the American people to see their financial interests. That should be the law – not just for presidential candidates, but for every candidate for every federal office."

Warren, who is running for re-election to the Senate this year and is a favorite of progressives, demurred when asked if her proposals indicated that she wanted to take on Trump in 2020.

But it was clear that the president was the main target of her speech.

"Right now, that problem begins with a president who may be vulnerable to financial blackmail from a hostile foreign power and God knows who else, a president and his family who may be personally profiting off hundreds of policy decisions every day," she said. "But we don't know, because he won't show us his tax returns and won't get rid of his personal business interests."

Warren also proposed several other ethics reforms that would be unlikely to pass the current Republican-majority Congress, but that might become law under a strongly progressive president and Democratic Congress.

For example, she proposed barring former members of Congress and former government appointees from becoming lobbyists, toughening lobbying disclosure rules, banning lobbying by foreign governments, strengthening the ethics rules for federal judges and creating a new federal ethics watchdog.

She proposed all this hours before the news broke about Manafort, Cohen and Hunter, meaning she didn't have the chance at the speech to comment on the ethics stories that dominated the day.

Even so, Warren offered a far bolder ethics proposal than any other member of Congress had since Collins' arrest.

The other ethics proposal unveiled Tuesday was that of Reed and Rice, which merely bar House members from serving on corporate boards.

“This is a common-sense proposal to further strengthen our ethics rules," Reed said. "By preventing members of Congress from keeping one foot in the boardroom and the other on the House floor we hope to limit potential conflicts of interests and the appearance of impropriety.”

But the Reed-Rice proposal would have a limited impact. The Buffalo News reported last year that Collins, a Republican from Clarence, was the only House member to serve on a corporate board. And Collins left the board of Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech firm, in April.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Collins with 11 felony counts, saying he launched an insider trading scheme involving Innate stock with a phone call to his son, Cameron. Cameron Collins and his prospective father-in-law, Stephen Zarsky, face similar charges.

In light of Collins' arrest and all the other recent congressional and Trump administration scandals, Warren said it's time for Congress to finally get tough on itself.

"This is an aggressive set of reforms that would fundamentally change the way Washington does business," she said. "These reforms have one simple aim: to take power in Washington away from the wealthy, the powerful, and the well-connected who have corrupted our government and put power back in the hands of the American people."

No Collins replacement yet as county chairs delay decision

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