Dear Congress member Collins:
We applaud the Office of Congressional Ethics’ advice to you and the nation regarding the violation of “House rules, standards of conduct, and federal law” in relation to Innate Immunotherapeutics (“Innate”). We nonetheless remain concerned that you will not voluntarily heed this call for compliance with ethical norms and the law. We have therefore prepared a short series of general moral precepts to help guide you through your remaining time in office.
- Thou shalt resign from all boards and divest from all businesses that create the appearance of a conflict of interest.
You wrote the section of the “21st Century Cures Act” that relaxed standards for medical device clinical trials. This advantaged Innate, a foreign medical device company in which you hold a majority stake. Innate’s value skyrocketed when the bill passed, leaving the impression that you used your office to gain personal financial advantage. Moreover, you touted this stock to fellow government officials, including former Health and Education Secretary Tom Price, and in so doing raised further insider trading concerns. It doesn’t matter whether the investment later crashed, or whether the company does “good”, as you have opined. You directly influenced legislation that benefits your stock portfolio, creating an appearance of impropriety that undermines your office, your legislative colleagues and your country.
Unfortunately, your behavior worsened when news of your seeming self-dealing hit the press. You doubled down on your “right” to personally profiteer, with little explanation beyond blaming other people. Last September you went so far as to accept a board position with Innate, making you the only member of Congress to sit on the board of a publically traded company. That’s not because you’re a savvy entrepreneur. It’s because most elected officials would not publically engage in such an unseemly self-interested act.
- Thou shalt represent all of thine constituents, not just the ones who voted for you.
When, last August, you told a constituent that you only listen to voters who vote for you, you violated the Congressional Committee on Ethics’ precept that “a Member’s responsibility…is to all his constituents equally and should be pursued with diligence irrespective of political or other considerations” (emphasis supplied).
We know that governing for the benefit of all your constituents–even those with whom you disagree–is a significant departure from your current practice, and we know this is why you refuse to have town halls or meet or listen to voters with whom you disagree. This wholesale prioritization of self-interest over public service is contrary to basic norms of public service.
- Thou shalt not bear false witness against thine constituents, thine press outlets, or thine political opponents.
Calling news you don’t like “fake news” is dishonest. Not only is it untrue and factually unsupported, it undermines our constitutionally protected right to a free press, which is a cornerstone of a free society. It is akin to shouts of “lügenpresse” or “lying press” by authoritarian governments. You do not substantiate your criticism, you simply repeat the words “fake news” in the hope they will stick in the public’s mind, and thereby divert voters from your improprieties. This is dangerous behavior that destabilizes a cherished pillar of our democracy.
Similarly, calling your own constituents “outside…leftist extremists” bears false witness against local, civic-minded people who should not be subject to your unsupported, divisive rhetoric. Moreover, you direct attacks to fellow elected officials. You’ve called Governor Cuomo a thug, a bully and an extortionist. Worse, you deride 88 year-old NY-25 Housemember Louise Slaughter as the leader of a leftist “witch hunt” against you. This divisive language undermines civic discourse and diminishes the importance of facts and reason.
Finally, as noted weeks ago by Bush Administration ethics attorney Richard Painter, it is wrong for you to dismiss the serious allegations of the House Ethics Committee as “partisan politics” and thereby undermine the rule of law and the role of government institutions. In all of these instances there are significant constitutional and fair-government issues at stake, to which you appear to be oblivious. We suggest that you avoid further disparaging the Office of Ethics in the same manner you’ve disparaged your constituents, your colleagues and the free press.
We suggest that voters carefully consider whether you should remain in the U.S. House. We ask Western New Yorkers to diligently work for good government candidates through November 7th of this year. We believe the 2017 elections can provide the foundation for a return to good government in NY-27 and elsewhere. Perhaps you’ll surprise us and develop an ethical foundation for your decision-making, or perhaps we will have to elect somebody else.
- Thomas White –Sister District for Western New York
- Charles Hess – Liberty Union Progressives
- Alberto O. Cappas – Puerto Rican Committee for Community Justice
- Ashley Barr – Huddle for the 27th
- J. Lee Hugar – Stand Up Western New York
- Samantha Nephew – Citizen Action of Western New York
- Amber Hainey – GLOW Progressives
- Dan Beagley – Indivisible for the 27th
- Ann Maynard – RocAction
- Miles Gresham – Young Black Citizens of Western New York
- Heather Hartel – We The People
- WNYmedia Network