WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Western New York Congressman Chris Collins (R-Clarence) was criticized by Democrats in the Senate Wednesday, accusing him of being part of a questionable stock deal with a cabinet nominee.
Rep. Tom Price, President-Elect Donald Trump's pick as Secretary of Health and Human Services, was on Capitol Hill for a hearing before the HELP Committee in the Senate.
Democratic members of the committee questioned Price's $300,000 in shares over the past four years in health care companies that were impacted by legislation he worked on.
Among those stock trades was a purchase this past August of an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics. Congressman Collins owns about 17 percent of the company and is its largest shareholder.
Price confirmed Collins alerted him to the company's existence, and the two were among "about 20" people who participated in a "private placement", in which they bought shares at just 18 cents a share, according to Kaiser Health News, which reported it as a "sweetheart deal". The stock has since risen to more than $1.
"We need answers to this regarding whether you and Congressman Collins used your access to non-public information when you bought prices, bought at prices that were unavailable to the public," said Senator Patty Murray, the ranking member on the committee.
Democrats also criticized Price and Collins for trading these types of health care stocks just before voting to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which reportedly made it easier for companies like Innate Immunotherapeutics to seek FDA approval for trials on experimental treatments.
Price defended his actions.
"Everything that we have done has been above board, transparent, ethical and legal," he said during the hearing.
2 On Your Side requested an interview with Congressman Collins, but we only received the following statement from Collins spokesperson Michael McAdams:
“Congressman Collins’ relationship with Innate Immunotherapeutics dates back more than 15 years. Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis is one of the most debilitating diseases in the world and Congressman Collins saw its deadly impact first hand as it affected a close family member. As of now, it has no cure and no relief of symptoms. He is very proud of the progress the company has made over the years and hopeful it will develop a potentially life-saving treatment for the millions of individuals suffering from Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.
“During his more than 15 year relationship with Innate Immunotherapeutics, Congressman Collins has had thousands of conversations about the debilitating impact of Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis and the need to help the millions of people suffering from this disease. Along the way, he has spoken with hundreds of people, Dr. Price was one of those individuals, as he stated today during his testimony.“It’s unfortunate Sen. Murray launched a partisan attack insinuating something nefarious occurred. Congressman Collins has never disclosed any nonpublic or improper information related to Innate Immunotherapeutics and has followed all ethical and legal standards required by the House of Representatives during his time in office.”
Meredith Kelly with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released the following statement following today's contentious hearing:
"Congressman Price's admission that Congressman Collins was involved in his suspect stock dealings raises serious questions about whether or not they both engaged in insider trading. This is extremely troubling and the people of Western New York need immediate assurances from Collins that no House ethics rules or federal laws were broken."