Congressman may have broken law with biotech he held, watchdog says

Postado Outubro 13, 2017

The Office of Congressional Ethics recommended that the committee dismiss a third charge against Collins: that he got a discount on Innate's stock based on the fact that he was a member of Congress.

There's also substantial reason to believe he may have used his position to set up a meeting with the National Institutes of Health in November 2013 to ask that an NIH employee meet with Innate employees to discuss clinical trial designs, the panel found. That could have violated House rules that bar lawmakers from taking official actions that would benefit an entity in which they have a significant financial interest.

Mr. Collins told reporters Thursday he had done nothing wrong.

The Board of the Office of Congressional Ethics recommended the Committee on Ethics further review the allegations. Collins remains the largest shareholder in Innate Immuno, according to a listing on the firm's website. By doing that, Collins may have violated the federal Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, a law barring insider trading among members of Congress, as well as House ethics guidelines.

A statement from Collins's legal team said the review was "spurred by unfounded accusations that trace their origin to political opponents", pointing specifically to Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.).

And while the Office of Congressional Ethics' findings about Collins were different than what Slaughter had suggested the committee might find, she said the office's report made it clear that Collins likely violated federal law in touting Innate's prospects with inside information.

Slaughter said Thursday that the report showed Collins "put his obsession to enrich himself before the people he swore to represent".

"Throughout my tenure in Congress I have followed all rules and ethical guidelines when it comes to my personal investments", Collins said upon the release of the OCE's report.

Mr. Collins enthusiastically pitched Innate to almost everyone he met, the report said, discussing the company with members of Congress and his own staff, "most" of whom were also investors. The meeting between Innate and the NIH, they added, was routine and in line with the agency's mission of supporting medical research and communicating health sciences information.

"Rep. Collins has done nothing improper, and his cooperation and candor during the OCE review process confirm he has nothing to hide", Mark Braden wrote in August to the Ethics Committee on the Congressman's behalf. But the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) started probing in March whether Collins overstepped bounds in his advocacy for the firm and corroborated some allegations in July.

OCE identified multiple instances in which Collins provided updates to US investors regarding clinical trials and a private placement offering. "It is a disgrace to Congress and to his constituents, who deserve better". Price was also an investor in Innate and served in the Trump administration as secretary of Health and Human Services until his resignation last month after reports of his extensive private charter travel at taxpayer expense. OCE noted that he declined to cooperate with its investigation.

Collins' attorneys have denied the allegations of wrongdoing in the report.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ripped Collins. Collins told OCE that the visit was a "high school field trip" and compared it to going to "the Smithsonian" and that he was there as a private citizen, not as a member of Congress.

When asked by OCE why he was accompanied by his then-legislative assistant, Collins replied: "I don't go anywhere alone". Prior to his visit, an aide to Collins notified the organizer of the meeting that he was involved with Innate, a company that was working on a drug to treat multiple sclerosis. That led to Innate's chief scientific officer meeting with the NIH.

This story was updated at 3:09 p.m.