An investigation of Rep. Chris Collins has moved to the House Ethics Committee, after a review by the Office of Congressional Ethics. The person who filed the original complaint against the Clarence Republican said this shows there will be a deeper dive into the congressman's investments.
In a press release, the ethics panel said it received a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics - an independent investigative body - regarding Collins on July 14. The Office of Congressional Ethics makes such referrals in less than 40 percent of the cases it investigates and does so only when it has "substantial reason to believe” that a violation of law or House rules has occurred.
Neither the Office of Congressional Ethics nor the House Ethics Committee would offer further comment on the investigation, which stems from Collins' investment in an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics.
Collins spokesperson Sarah Minkel said it is all a "partisan witch hunt." She said Collins followed all of the rules on his personal investments in Innate Immunotherapeutics and he persuaded a number of his colleagues, including former Congressman Tom Price, to invest in the company.
As part of his confirmation process to be Secretary of Health and Human Services, Price had to sell his stock in the company and the stock price tumbled shortly after. Public Citizen Government Affairs Lobbyist Craig Holman was among those who filed the ethics complaint, citing the STOCK Act.
"They have stricter ethics rules," said Holman. "So, when Tom Price was being confirmed as HHS Secretary, he had to sign an ethics agreement divesting himself of any conflicts of interest, including his Innates properties, which, by the way, really worked out well for Tom Price because he was required to sell it when it was at a high point."
Holman said Price made a killing in that sale.
"It made it very clear that insider trading is also illegal for members of Congress and, so, this looks like it could have been insider trading," Holman said. "Of course, I could not have had enough information to say that, but there was enough evidence to file a complaint to ask the Ethics Committees and the Securities and Exchange Commission to take a good look."
Holman said there were indications of insider trading, since Collins is on the company board.
"There is the potential of an actual crime going on here if there was any kind of insider trading," Holman said. "If Chris Collins had access to insider information and was encouraging trading activity by others and himself using that inside information, that is illegal."
The STOCK Act aims to bar lawmakers from trading stocks based on inside knowledge of congressional actions and discussing stock trades on House property. Public Citizen's Congress Watch, Fairport Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter and several of Collins' constituents filed complaints with the Office of Congressional Ethics.
Holman said the move from the independent office to the Ethics Committee is very significant because few complaints make that move. In 45 days, the committee has to say what it is doing and release the referral report to the public.