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McMurray challenges Collins to accountability pledge

Democratic congressional candidate Nathan McMurray, arguing that Rep. Chris Collins wouldn't have time to serve constituents because of his indictment on felony insider trading charges, Monday challenged the Republican incumbent to promise to be more accountable to voters than ever before.

And through a spokesman, Collins, a Clarence Republican, did not respond to the challenge.

McMurray, the Grand Island town supervisor, introduced a transparency plan in which he vowed to hold monthly town hall meetings, release his public schedule and introduce legislation requiring House members to debate their election opponents.

Asked for a response, Collins spokeswoman Natalie Baldassarre issued a statement attacking McMurray without answering whether Collins would make any such commitments.

Collins has said he will never have a town hall meeting, arguing they are forums for hecklers. But McMurray contends they are an essential duty of any congressman – and said Collins won't be able to fulfill that or any other congressional commitments because he'll be fighting criminal charges if re-elected.

"He's going to be so preoccupied by this that he's not going to be a part-time congressman; he's going to be a no-time congressman," McMurray, a corporate lawyer and the Grand Island town supervisor, said in a telephone interview.

Collins said in a Buffalo News interview published Sunday that if he is re-elected, his job will be "the same as ever" as he awaits his Feb. 3, 2020, criminal trial. But McMurray disagreed.

"The pressure to defend himself is going to be enormous," McMurray said.

A bipertisan team from the Erie County Board of Elections began their count of the 2018 absentee ballots, Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. They began with the 5588 ballots from the 27th District. A cart is filled with ballots. These are ballots from Clarence. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Collins on Aug. 8 on charges that he prompted a series of illegal insider stock trades in a June 2017 cellphone call to his son Cameron that the lawmaker made from the White House lawn.

Collins says he is innocent and vows to fight the criminal charges.

The third-term lawmaker did not answer questions about McMurray's anti-corruption plan, which would bar federal lawmakers from sitting on the boards of public corporations. Collins was indicted in connection with stock trades involving Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotech firm where he served on the board.

The McMurray anti-corruption plan would also ban corporate political action committee money and overturn Citizens United, the Supreme Court decision that allows anonymous "dark money" to flow through the political system.

In response, Baldassarre released a statement alluding to McMurray's use of a Grand Island town email account while exploring his race for Congress. She also noted that McMurray is getting help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – and while Baldassarre said that committee takes corporate money, DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said it does not.

"From a guy who used government resources and taxpayer dollars to set up his campaign, this is rank hypocrisy," Baldassarre said. "If Nate were serious about this plan, he would give back the corporate PAC money and special interest money used to pay for his joint ads with the DCCC. Anything else is the dying gasp of an unserious candidate."

Polls show, though, that McMurray's campaign has gained strength since Collins was indicted. A live poll conducted for the New York Times shows Monday showed Collins with a 4-point lead -- within the 5-point margin of error. And the McMurray campaign released an internal poll conducted between Thursday and Sunday that showed McMurray ahead by 4 points, within the 4.9 point margin of error.

One wild card in the race is Reform Party candidate Larry Piegza, who drew 4 percent in the internal McMurray poll.

Asked about McMurray's transparency plan, Piegza said he would agree to debates, but has a better idea than traditional in-person town halls: an online town hall system "so that our residents can contact me anytime they want."


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