Chris Collins: Holding Up a Mirror to Our Political Landscape and Our Justice System


The rain was still pouring this morning as I grabbed my bags and trudged my way in to my office.  Almost immediately, I heard the big news. Chris Collins, U.S. Representative of the NY-27, had been indicted for insider trading.  My initial reaction? It’s about time!

It was over a year ago that we first heard reports of the investigation related to this charge and to conflicts of interest inherent in his holding a substantial share of these stocks.  Like the Russian investigation, it seemed to be dragging on without any real consequences. So, it seemed, finally, those who seem to always escape the long-arm of the law would finally be called to task for their misdeeds.   

Then I had some time to process everything and read through the indictment.  In reading the documents I felt the FBI made a compelling case. Chris Collins was notified via email of a failed clinical trial that everyone had originally presumed would be positive.  Within minutes he had called his son to tell him the outcome. Over the next few days, his son siphoned off over a million shares of the stock in question, avoiding a loss of over $500,000.  Other people related to the Congressman were also informed of the results and were able to avoid substantial losses. All in all, the indictment states that those related to Chris Collins were able to avoid a loss of close to $1 million collectively.  Chris Collins did not trade his shares, but that was no act of valor— rather, it was due to a halt on trading that had been put in place through the Australian government—the others were not subject to the same restriction because they had purchased their shares through U.S. markets.

There are more compelling details in the indictment to support the charge, but I was struck by the end of the indictment.  Maybe I’m not familiar enough with criminal indictments (thank goodness!), but I was stunned to see the only remedy requested was that all parties forfeit the proceeds related to the prohibited transaction.  This gave me some serious pause, because I immediately thought of Martha Stewart, the American icon for smart home decor, sitting in Federal prison for something very similar (and she wasn’t even an elected official with any kind of obligation to the public!). I thought of the thousands of African American men sitting in prison for crimes like marijuana possession or shoplifting.

Some other social media rumblings gave me pause as well.  Namely, the Republican Party would simply remove him from the ballot and replace with him with a white bread Republican, who could easily win the heavily gerrymandered district, or worse yet, they would simply choose from the bench of people waiting in line-- people like my former opponent.  

So, I guess my question is this:  As an electorate, at what point will we say enough is enough?

This crisis of confidence in politicians isn’t totally avoidable.  We have had lots of opportunities to elect qualified, competent individuals.  Angela Marinucci is running for County Clerk. She’s a lawyer and a mom with an amazing amount of energy and a large supportive family.  Will she win this year, or will we stick with Mickey Kearns, who has been happy to join the Republican rhetoric fanning the flames of division on issues like immigration and civil rights protests?  I ran for Erie County Comptroller, thinking my background as a CPA and a lawyer would win the day over the showmanship of my unqualified opponent, a fact that everyone, including the Buffalo News, seemed to acknowledge.  Yet, the Buffalo News endorsed my opponent and I lost by a ten point spread. I could go on and on about the wonderful candidates that have run and lost, candidates who have integrity, who work hard, who care about good governing, but I won’t.  Just know that they are out there, and they have been trying to serve us if we will finally let them.

So, again, I ask, when is it enough?  Nate McMurray is Collins’ Democratic opponent.  He is a Fulbright scholar, currently serving as Grand Island’s supervisor.  He seems genuinely concerned with the people of the 27th District and has been running a race that everyone--and I mean everyone--has said is fruitless.  Why would anyone do that? I can tell you why, because I did the same thing.

It’s because when you believe in a greater purpose, when you believe in giving your all to your community, you willingly sacrifice your summer leisure, you spend twelve hours walking in parades in blazing sun, you wake up in the middle of the night to tweak speeches, you thank and shake the hands of the people who tell you you’re not good enough for the job.  You do all of this, because that’s what public service is about.

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to start electing people like that—not Chris Collins, not my former opponent, and not any other politician who fails to show the same commitment we deserve.  True public servants, hard working people, committed to our communities. Let’s do this Western New York!

Correction on August 9th, 2018: Since posting this blog, I have heard from criminal law attorneys that the criminal sentences are implied in an indictment. However, the same does not hold true for forfeiture provisions, which is why it was explicitly state. We are right to be concerned about disparities in the justice system, but, in this case, the indictment, in and of itself, does not imply them.