Chris Collins (New York politician)
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from New York's 27th district
January 3, 2013 – October 1, 2019
|Preceded by||Kathy Hochul (Redistricting)|
|Succeeded by||Chris Jacobs|
|7th Executive of Erie County|
January 1, 2008 – December 31, 2011
|Preceded by||Joel Giambra|
|Succeeded by||Mark Poloncarz|
Christopher Carl Collins
May 20, 1950
Schenectady, New York, U.S.
|Education||North Carolina State University (BS)|
University of Alabama, Birmingham (MBA)
|Criminal charge||Insider trading|
|Penalty||Sentenced to 2 years|
Christopher Carl Collins (born May 20, 1950) is an American politician and businessman who served as the U.S. Representative for New York's 27th congressional district from 2013 until his resignation in 2019. Collins was elected Erie County Executive in 2007 and held that position for one term. A member of the Republican Party, Collins was the first sitting U.S. Representative to endorse Donald Trump for President of the United States, and he served on Trump's presidential transition team. He resigned his seat in 2019 and afterwards pleaded guilty to insider trading and lying to the FBI.
Collins and his son, Cameron Collins, were arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on August 8, 2018, and charged with insider trading and making false statements. Three days later, Collins announced that he was suspending his bid for a fourth term in Congress; however, on September 17, 2018, he resumed his re-election campaign. Collins was narrowly re-elected to Congress on November 6, 2018, with his 2016 percentage of 67% reduced to 49%. On September 30, 2019, Collins announced his resignation from the House of Representatives. The resignation went into effect the following morning, and, later that day, Collins pleaded guilty. He was pardoned by President Donald Trump on December 22, 2020.
Early life, education, business career, and family
Collins was born in 1950 in Schenectady, New York, the son of Constance (Messier) and Gerald Edward Collins. Collins moved around the country with his family, as his father was transferred several times by General Electric. Collins graduated from Hendersonville High School in Hendersonville, North Carolina, in 1968.
Collins earned a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from North Carolina State University, where he was a member of the Sigma Pi fraternity, in 1972. Collins was inducted into the North Carolina State University Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department Hall of Fame in November 2015. He then earned a master's degree in business administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham in 1975.
Collins worked as a mechanical engineer at Westinghouse Electric. Collins also served as President and CEO of Nuttall Gear Corporation located in Niagara Falls, New York. Nuttall Gear was a 1983 leveraged buyout of the Westinghouse Electric Gear Division located in Buffalo, New York. In 1997, Collins sold Nuttall to Colfax Corporation, based in Annapolis, Maryland.
As of 2018, Collins and his wife, Mary, have three children and three grandchildren.
Erie County Executive
Collins ran for Erie County Executive in 2007 on a platform of smaller county government, lower taxes and Six Sigma. His campaign slogan was "Elect a Chief Executive, not a Chief Politician." Collins defeated Democrat James P. Keane, the deputy county executive of the Dennis Gorski administration, with 63% of the vote; his win was considered an upset.
On November 8, 2011, Collins lost his bid for re-election in a race that he was predicted to win. He was defeated by Democratic candidate Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County Comptroller. In a county with 140,000 more Democrats than Republicans, Collins won 39 of the 44 municipalities. Poloncarz won the five remaining municipalities, including the City of Buffalo, by a margin of 81% to 19%.
When Collins became Erie County Executive, he inherited from his Republican predecessor, Joel Giambra, a nearly bankrupt county that had state-imposed fiscal control with a budget of $1.2 billion. Collins spoke for three minutes at the 2008 Republican National Convention on September 3, 2008. By June 2009, the state-imposed strict oversight of the Erie County budget ended.
Collins recruited a Six Sigma Master Black Belt from the University at Buffalo who had previously worked as an executive at Delphi to implement Lean Six Sigma across all county departments under the direction of the county executive to improve efficiency and reduce costs. The position's $115,000 salary plus associated costs was funded by a grant of taxpayer money from the Erie County Control Board.
Collins sued the county so that he could unilaterally increase the county attorney's salary. The State Supreme Court Judge presiding over the case ruled in favor of Collins and awarded the higher salary to the incoming County Attorney.
Collins was sued by the United States Department of Justice for repeated civil rights violations of prisoners held in county facilities, including juveniles and prisoners with developmental disabilities. The Department of Justice and Erie County co-signed a stipulated settlement of dismissal in August 2011. He was also sued by the County Legislature for refusing to issue payments to Erie Community College that had been included in the county's budget.
As County Executive, Collins created the Brighter Future Fund, donating his county salary to local non-profit organizations for the first 18 months of his tenure.
In February 2008, Erie County experienced a potential Hepatitis A emergency when an infected employee handled produce at a popular supermarket. Over the course of several days, the County vaccinated and inoculated 10,000 people to protect the public. The event was one of the largest vaccination events in the history of the United States.
In January 2010, two Republican Members of the New York State Assembly (including Republican Assemblyman Joseph Errigo), claimed that Collins had behaved inappropriately at Gov. David Paterson's State of the State address. According to the two assemblymembers, the event was crowded, and Collins made the following comment to a female attendee: "I'm sure if you offer someone a lap dance you can find a place to sit." Collins denied making the comment, and claimed that there was a "political smear campaign" going on against him.
Beginning in 2009, Collins was mentioned as a potential candidate for Governor of New York in the 2010 election, particularly if Rudy Giuliani decided not to run. In January 2010, Collins announced that he would not run for governor that year.
Before he lost his 2011 bid for re-election, Collins was mentioned as a potential candidate in the 2014 gubernatorial election. In 2013, Collins disclaimed any interest in running for Governor in 2014.
U.S. House of Representatives
In 1998, Collins challenged 24-year incumbent Democratic U.S. Congressman John J. LaFalce in New York's 29th congressional district. During the campaign, Collins was one of the first congressional candidates to call for President Bill Clinton's resignation in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. LaFalce touted his record of bringing home the bacon and defeated Collins by a margin of 58% to 41%.
After losing his County Executive re-election campaign in 2011, Collins initially ruled out a future bid for elected office. In January 2012, he was reported to be considering running for Congress and on March 25, 2012, Collins announced he was running in New York's newly drawn 27th Congressional District. The district had previously been the 26th District, and had long been a Republican bastion. However, in a 2011 special election, Democratic Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul became the first Democrat to represent the district since 1971.
On June 26, 2012, Collins won the Republican primary, defeating Iraq War veteran David Bellavia 60%–40%. Collins had the Republican and Conservative party lines for the November general election and defeated Hochul 51%–49%, a difference of 4,312 votes.
Collins won re-election to a second term by defeating Democratic opponent Jim O'Donnell 72%–28%.
Collins won re-election to a third term by defeating Democratic opponent Diana K. Kastenbaum 220,885 (67.7%) to 107,832 (32.3%).
On August 11, following his arrest on federal charges of insider trading, Collins announced that he was suspending his reelection campaign; he added that he intended to serve out the balance of his term. Under New York election law, Collins would remain on the ballot for the November election unless he died, accepted a nomination for a different office, moved out of state, or was disqualified. According to CNN, Republican officials considered nominating him for a town clerk position; this move would allow Collins to be removed from the ballot and replaced with a different candidate. In either case, the eight Republican county chairs in the district would then select a replacement in a vote weighted by county population. Twelve Republicans were mentioned as potential replacements for Collins on the general election ballot.
On September 17, 2018, Collins reversed his decision about the upcoming election, stating that he would remain on the ballot and campaign for another term in office.
Collins was sworn in on January 3, 2013. Prior to taking the oath of office, House Republican leadership appointed him to serve on both the Agriculture and Small Business committees in the 113th Congress. Soon after taking office, House Small Business Committee Chairman Sam Graves tapped Collins to chair the subcommittee on Healthcare and Technology.
On March 20, 2014, Collins chaired a field hearing, titled Expanding Broadband Access and Capabilities to Small Businesses in Rural New York. This field hearing was held at the Orleans County Legislature in Albion, New York, examining access to broadband in rural communities, and the role of the federal government in expanding these capabilities to small businesses. Following the field hearing, Collins hosted a roundtable discussion with local community leaders to continue the discussion on the importance of access to broadband in rural communities.
In announcing his committee assignments, Collins said one of his top goals as a member of Congress would be to work with his colleagues to pass a new Farm Bill. On May 15, 2013, Collins voted to approve the 2013 Farm Bill. On January 29, 2014, Collins voted to approve the Conferenced Farm Bill, known as the Agricultural Act of 2014. President Obama signed the 5 year Agricultural Act of 2014 into law on February 7, 2014.
In response to a proposal by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo to provide state prison inmates with a publicly financed college education, Collins introduced the Kids Before Cons Act in February 2014. The bill would prohibit states from using federal funding for the purpose of providing a college degree to convicted criminals. Collins called the Governor's proposal an insult to law-abiding taxpayers who are struggling to put themselves or their children through college. Collins' bill would allow federal dollars to be used for GED and working training programs in prisons and correctional facilities. Cuomo later abandoned his proposal to use public money to fund his initiative.
- Committee assignments
- Committee on Agriculture
- Committee on Small Business
- Committee on Science, Space and Technology
In the 114th Congress, Congressman Collins served on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He stated his priorities on the Energy and Commerce Committee would be securing American energy independence, ensuring companies at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus receive a fair amount of funding in the competitive grants offered by the National Institutes of Health, continuing oversight of the government's approval for new drugs and medical treatments, and increasing access to broadband Internet service in rural areas.
- Committee assignments
- Committee on Energy and Commerce
On August 8, 2018, following his arrest by the FBI for wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, seven counts of securities fraud, and lying to the FBI, Collins was stripped of all congressional committee assignments by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Ryan also called for the House Ethics Committee to look into the allegations, saying: “Insider trading is a clear violation of the public trust.”
- Committee assignments
- Committee on Energy and Commerce
Although Collins was re-elected, the Republicans adopted new caucus rules that barred Congressmen from serving on any committees if they are indicted for felonies. The rule was aimed at Collins and another Republican who was reelected while under felony indictment, Duncan D. Hunter of California.
2016 presidential election
After initially endorsing Jeb Bush in the 2016 presidential election and donating money to a Bush-aligned SuperPAC, Collins endorsed Donald Trump for president when Bush dropped out of the race. Collins endorsed Trump on February 24, 2016, becoming the first sitting member of Congress to endorse him. He cited shared pasts in business and a need for businessmen in the White House as having influenced his decision. On July 18, Collins seconded Trump's nomination at the 2016 Republican National Convention. According to The New York Times, Collins is "one of Donald Trump’s earliest and most ardent supporters". Following the 2016 election, Collins served on Trump's presidential transition team.
On May 4, 2017, Collins voted in favor of repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and to pass the American Health Care Act. Collins made headlines for admitting he had not read the full health care bill before voting. In an interview with a Buffalo News reporter, Collins admitted that he was unaware but unconcerned that New York would lose $3 billion worth of federal funds annually under the AHCA, by losing New York's Essential Health Plan, an optional ACA program that provided low-cost health insurance to thousands of "low- and middle-income people who d[id]n't qualify for Medicaid", to which Collins responded, "No. [I was not aware] But it doesn't surprise me for you to tell me that there were two states in the nation that were taking advantage of some other waiver program and New York was one of the two states."
In an interview in The Batavian on June 24, 2012, Collins said: "People now don't die from prostate cancer, breast cancer and some of the other things. The fact of the matter is, our healthcare today is so much better, we're living so much longer, because of innovations in drug development, surgical procedures, stents, implantable cardiac defibrillators, neural stimulators – they didn't exist 10 years ago." In response, Elise Foley of The Huffington Post wrote, "An estimated 577,190 people in the United States will die from cancer this year, including about 39,920 deaths from breast cancer and 28,170 from prostate cancer", citing data from the American Cancer Society.
Artvoice wrote, "The implantable cardiac defibrillator and neural stimulators, or TENS devices, were both invented and patented in the late 60s or early 70s; therefore, they existed '10 years ago'".
In February 2014, Collins introduced the Kids before Cons Act to prohibit the use of federal money to provide college education to convicted criminals in prison. An editorial in The New York Times said, "These ridiculous arguments are unmoored from both reason and reality." A 2013 RAND study of 30 years of research found that every dollar spent on inmate education saves $4 to $5 on re-incarceration.
Collins supported Donald Trump's May 9, 2017, firing of FBI Director James Comey, saying "The Director of the FBI serves at the pleasure of the President. I respect President Trump's decision at the recommendation of the Attorney General."
Collins supported President Donald Trump's 2017 Executive Order 13769 restricting immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries. He stated that "I get a little frustrated with the folks who don't like Trump trying to make something into something it's not. So I'm just disappointed that we can't have a true and honest debate without someone inflaming the situation and claiming there's religious overtones."
Collins was one of only two House members from New York state (along with Tom Reed) to support the provision in Republican tax overhaul bill introduced November 2, 2017, eliminating personal deductions for state income taxes on federal tax forms. In response New York Governor Andrew Cuomo labeled the two lawmakers "the Benedict Arnolds of their time", claiming that the loss of the deduction would cost New York State taxpayers nearly $15 billion and do grave damage to the state. Collins said that under Cuomo, New York is the highest-taxed, most regulated, least business-friendly state in the nation and urged Cuomo to cut the state's budget. Asked if his donors were pleased with the House's tax reform plan so far, Collins said, "My donors are basically saying 'get it done or don't ever call me again.'"
Comments about other politicians
On November 28, 2016, Collins made strongly negative remarks about Mitt Romney, who was being considered by President-elect Donald Trump for the position of Secretary of State. On the TV show New Day, Collins said, "What do I know about Mitt Romney? I know that he's a self-serving egomaniac who puts himself first, who has a chip on his shoulder, and thinks that he should be president of the United States."
On February 10, 2017, Collins told Chris Cuomo on CNN's New Day that elected officials should not have to release their respective tax histories. This comment was made in response to the ongoing controversy concerning Trump's refusal to release his tax forms.
In June 14, 2017, a leftwing domestic terrorist shot several GOP Congress members who were training for an annual Washington DC charity game that pits Democrats versus Republicans. In a reaction Collins blamed Democrats, saying, "I can only hope that the Democrats do tone down the rhetoric. The rhetoric has been outrageous in the anger directed at Donald Trump." Shortly after making that comment, Collins noted that it was important for everyone, including himself, to tone down partisan rhetoric and "recognize that we are all one country and all proud Americans." Collins also vowed to start carrying a gun with him "from this day forward."
2018 criminal charges
In August 2016, Collins became the largest shareholder in a company called Innate Immunotherapeutics. In May 2017, House ethics investigators "began probing Collins for his role in recruiting investors to buy stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics after several complaints were filed." Members of Congress are explicitly barred from trading stocks using insider information. In October 2017, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) said they had "substantial reason" to believe that Collins had improperly used his public office to benefit Innate, and had forwarded nonpublic information to other investors. The OCE said Collins sent nonpublic information to investors about drug trials and that he visited the National Institutes of Health to discuss a drug's clinical trial, violating House ethics rules. The House Ethics Committee did appoint a subcommittee to continue investigating Collins' case, but deferred action at the request of DOJ. On August 8, 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a complaint in federal court on Collins and two other defendants for "illegal insider trading".
According to the federal government, on June 22, 2017, the CEO of Innate Immunotherapeutics sent an email to the company's board of directors, including Collins. The e-mail explained that an important drug trial for the company had failed. Collins allegedly received this news while attending a picnic at the White House and, upon seeing the email, immediately phoned his son and instructed him to sell shares in the company. According to the allegations, the sale allowed Collins and his family to avoid around $570,000 in losses. The shares eventually dropped around 90% once news about the drug trial became public.
On August 8, 2018, Collins, his son Cameron, and the father of Cameron's fiancée, Stephen Zarsky, were arrested by the FBI and charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, and lying to the FBI. Later that day, Speaker of the US House of Representatives Paul Ryan announced that he had removed Collins from his position on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He also referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee.
Resignation from Congress and guilty plea
On September 30, 2019, it was reported that Collins would change his plea to guilty and resign his seat in the House on October 1, 2019. His resignation, which was previously presented to the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, became official on October 1 after it was presented on the floor of the US House of Representatives. The same day, Collins traveled to a Manhattan federal courthouse and pleaded guilty to insider trading and lying to the FBI. Had Collins attempted to stay in Congress after pleading guilty, his role would have likely been very limited. Longstanding House rules state that a member convicted of a felony should not take part in floor votes or committee work until the House Ethics Committee reviews the matter. Although there is no constitutional rule barring a convicted felon from voting, McCarthy and the Republican leadership would have strongly discouraged Collins from doing so, and the House Ethics Committee has indicated in the past that convicted felons can be disciplined if they do take part in committee or floor votes.
On December 9, 2019, Collins and the SEC agreed that Collins will "be permanently barred from acting as an officer or director of any public company". In January 2020, federal prosecutors recommended that Collins receive the maximum prison sentence, nearly five years in prison. On January 17, 2020, Judge Vernon S. Broderick sentenced Collins to 26 months in prison. He was scheduled to begin the sentence on March 17 but it was later delayed to April 21, June 23, August 18, and October 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. He began his sentence on October 13, 2020, at Federal Prison Camp, Pensacola.
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The Buffalo News reported that many in the [Buffalo]'s business elite had bought stock in the drug company after hearing from Collins ... Collins first invested in Innate Immunotherapeutics, which has developed a drug to fight advanced multiple sclerosis, about 15 years ago. He said he's raised money for the company during tough times and has earned a spot on its board of directors ... [In August 2016, Collins] purchased an additional 4 million shares. On [January 27, 2017,] the stock hit an all-time high of $1.83 per share, but it was trading at 74 cents per share on [May 7, 2017].
- Tau, Byron (October 12, 2017). "Congressional Ethics Office Says New York Republican May Have Violated Law". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved October 13, 2017.
- "Statement Regarding the Investigative Subcommittee in the Matter of Representative Chris Collins". House Committee on Ethics. October 1, 2019.
- "Civil Action No. 18-cv-7128" (PDF). U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. August 8, 2018. Retrieved December 9, 2019.
- Erica Ordin and Maegan Vazquez. "New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins indicted on insider trading charges", CNN, August 8, 2018.
- Mangan, Dan (August 8, 2018). "Paul Ryan boots GOP Rep. Chris Collins from House panel after insider-trading charges". CNBC. Retrieved August 8, 2018.
- Zremski, Jerry (September 30, 2019). "Rep. Chris Collins, co-defendants to change pleas in insider trading case". The Buffalo News. Retrieved September 30, 2019.
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- United States House of Representatives. "Status of a Member of the House Who Has Been Indicted For or Convicted of A Felony" (PDF).
- "Former Congressman and Two Others Settle Insider Trading Charges". U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. December 9, 2019. Retrieved December 9, 2019.
- Zanona, Melanie (January 13, 2020). "Prosecutors recommend nearly 5 years in prison for disgraced former Rep. Chris Collins". Politico. Retrieved January 14, 2020.
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- Zremski, Jerry (January 17, 2020). "An anguished Chris Collins faces 26 months in prison". The Buffalo News. Retrieved January 17, 2020.
- Orden, Erica (April 2, 2020). "Former Rep. Chris Collins' prison term delayed due to coronavirus". CNN.com. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
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- "Former Congressman Chris Collins will report to prison October 13". WGRZ. August 7, 2020. Archived from the original on September 24, 2020. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
- Zremski, Jerry (October 13, 2020). "Former Rep. Chris Collins reports to federal prison". The Buffalo News. Retrieved October 13, 2020.
- Pengelly, Martin; Singh, Maanvi (December 23, 2020). "Trump pardons ex-campaign aide, Blackwater contractors and disgraced lawmakers". The Guardian. Retrieved December 23, 2020.