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Judy Ford Wason Center for Public Policy

Wason Center

October 17, 2018

Better Know a House Scandal

National / Midterm / Elections

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Many Americans have been focused on the Mueller probe and the indictments that will come of this investigation. However, voters in New York’s 27th district and California’s 50th district have been focusing on the indictments of their representatives, both of whom are seeking re-election in the midterms. Chris Collins (R-NY) is the current representative for New York’s 27th district. Rep. Collins assumed office in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013 and won re-election in 2014 with over 70% of the vote. Collins is an avid Trump supporter and a top ally to President Trump. He served on President Trump’s transition team after he won the election in 2016 and has voiced support for Trump’s America First policies.

Rep. Collins was arrested in August and charged with federal securities fraud related to an Australian pharmaceutical company called Innate Immunotherapeutics, where Collins is one of the biggest shareholders. The indictment also charged Collins’ son, Cameron, and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins’ fiancee. Innate pharmaceuticals began drug trials to fight against advanced multiple sclerosis; if the drug had been successful, the company’s stock would have likely increased significantly. However, the drug trials failed, and Collins reportedly shared this confidential information to his son and Zarsky. Collins attempted to move his shares in May but failed to move the stock from Australia to the United States. However, Cameron Collins and Zarsky avoided losses of $570,000 and $143,000, respectively, because of the tip from Collins.

Collins’ legal team stated that they were able to “trace allegations” back to his political opponents. Collins pointed to the late Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who died in March. Slaughter co-authored the STOCK Act, which bans members of Congress from participating in insider trading. Collins stated that it was the “shock of all shocks” when he learned he was under criminal investigation and has pleaded not guilty to the charges. However, Collins was condemned by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Speaker Ryan also removed Collins from the House Commerce and Energy Committee after he was arrested. Ryan stated, “while his guilt or innocence is a question for the courts to settle, the allegations against Rep. Collins demand a prompt and thorough investigation by the House Ethics Committee…Insider trading is a clear violation of the public trust.”

Shortly after being charged with insider trading, Collins announced that he would suspend his re-election campaign. Collins stated that it was within the “best interests” of his district, “the Republican Party, and President Trump’s agenda” to suspend his bid. Collins also feared that if his election bid continued, it would make the Republican seat more vulnerable to a Democratic victory and would impact the surrounding Republican districts in Western New York. However, in early September, Collins reversed course and announced that he would continue to run for a 4th congressional term despite his indictment. Many Republicans who were on board with Collins’ campaign suspension were surprised to hear that Collins had reserved course. “This comes as a pretty great surprise to all of us who have worked very, very hard, and then had the rug pulled out from under us,” said Nick Langworthy, chairman of the Erie County Republican Committee.

The 27th district in New York was a pivot county in 2016, meaning that the district backed President Trump in 2016 and after voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Additionally, the Cook Partisan Voter Index marks NY-27 as a R+11 district, meaning that in the previous presidential election the district’s results were 11 points higher than the national average. The Republican nature of NY-27 gives Collins a greater chance of securing the majority vote in the general election despite his indictment charges. According to the Federal Election Commission, Collins has raised $1,278,748 while his Democratic challenger, Nathan McMurray, has raised $133,975. An internal poll from the McMurray campaign has reported that Collins and McMurrary both have 42% of the vote while 10% of voters are undecided. Additionally, 90% of respondents say they have heard, read of seen information about Collins’ indictment. The Wason Center has categorized this race as a “toss up” race and will continue to provide updates on the election in New York’s 27th district.

Representative Duncan Hunter (R) of California’s 50th district was also indicted in late August. Rep. Hunter and his wife were accused of spending more than $250,000 in campaign funds on personal expenses. These expenses included a vacation to Italy, dental bills, and plane tickets for their family pet. Additionally, Hunter and his wife were accused of lying to the Federal Election Commission about the funds.

Rep. Hunter stated that he believes the indictment is a politically motivated attack by the Democratic party. “This is the Democrats’ arm of law enforcement. That’s what’s happening right now, and it’s happening with Trump and it’s happening with me,” stated Hunter. Prosecutors have expressed that the Hunters are “reckless spenders, living beyond their means.” In the 47 page indictment, prosecutors state that the Hunters overdrew from their bank account more than 1,100 times in a seven-year period, resulting in $37,761 overdraft fees.

Most recently, Rep. Hunter has launched false advertisements about his challenger, Ammar Campa-Najjar. The ads state that Najjar is trying to “infiltrate” Congress and that he changed his last name to hide his family ties to terrorism. “He changed his name from Ammar Yasser Najjar to Ammar Campa-Najjar,” said Hunter, “so he sounds Hispanic. … That is how hard, by the way, that the radical Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government.” The Washington Post gave this advertisement a 4/4 on their fact checker, their worst rating for false advertisements. Najjar has denounced these statements and used the momentum from the false advertisements and the indictments to garner support for his campaign. “We cannot in good conscience let a lawbreaker be our lawmaker anymore, we can’t trust somebody to pass laws that he himself cannot follow,” said Najjar.

The Cook Partisan Voter Index for CA-50 is R+11, leaving analysts to believe that Hunter still has a viable chance of winning his re-election bid. The Cook Political Report and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball have categorized the race as Lean and Likely Republican, respectively. The Wason Center has also categorized this race as “lean Republican”. Additionally, the Republican voter base has a 14-point registration advantage over the Democratic voter base. Hunter has only raised $854,787 while his Democratic challenger, Ammar Campa-Najjar has raised $1,088,270. Despite trailing in fundraising, Rep. Hunter has proven to be a viable candidate based on polling and the Republican nature of the district. According to a survey by Monmouth University, Hunter leads Najjar 53% to 38%. However, UC Berkeley/LA Times has Hunter leading at 49%, while Najjar trails closely behind with 47%.

Collins court date is set for “early 2020,” while Hunter’s court date is set for December 3, 2018. Despite both of the recent indictment charges of Rep. Hunter and Rep. Collins, both candidates are able to retain their congressional seats. Rep. Collins faces slimmer margins than Rep. Hunter, but recent news regarding their indictment charges may bring different odds come election night.

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