You sometimes hear of a Congressman who raises more money from New York state, or from the D.C. region than he raises from his home state, reflecting perhaps that he's out of touch with the place he's supposed to represent.
Congressman Chris Collins, though, represents a district in the Empire State, which makes it more amazing that he's raised more money so far this cycle from D.C., Maryland, and Virginia than he has raised from New York.
Lobbyists from up and down K Street dot Collins' donor files. Drug lobbyists like Peter Rubin of Organovo, manufacturer lobbyists like John Russell of the K Street firm Dentons, energy lobbyists like Jeff Mackinnon — they all are Collins donors.
The corporate political action committees are really where Collins' bread is buttered — like many congressmen, he's raised more from PACs than from individuals so far this year. Some of those are the PACs of lobbying firms, including Covington & Burling, Dentons, K&L Gates. Also, Collins is hauling in cash from PACs of the companies whose subsidies he defends.
Collins is the leading House champion of the Export-Import Bank, which subsidizes U.S. exports. Boeing is by far Ex-Im's biggest beneficiary, and General Electric is always in the top five. Both companies' PACs have funded Collins.
Collins' top source of money last election was the health sector, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with "health professionals" as his top industry and "pharmaceuticals/health products." PACs from the pharma/health products industry provided him about $96,000 last election.
Collins' ties to the drug industry are a lot more intimate than that, though. He is a very wealthy businessman (subsidies from the Export-Import Bank have helped), and recently his net worth got a boost thanks to a pharmaceutical stock in his portfolio, in an episode that highlights Collins' tendency to blend policymaking, fundraising, and investing.
Collins also played a major role in shaping the 21st Century Cures Act. According to various news reports, Collins inserted a provision into the late-2016 legislation that allowed a fast-track approval process for investigational drugs. This provision boosted Innate's stock by helping bring Innate's sole product, a Multiple Sclerosis drug called MIS416, to market more quickly.
Collins just happened to have bought up about a million dollars in Innate stock in August 2016, as the 21st Century Cures Act wended its way through Congress. This purchase was part of a special stock offering — a VIP opportunity into which Collins brought some friends. "Sixteen people with close ties to Collins bought Innate shares at discounted prices of $0.18 or $0.26 cents per share," the Daily Beast reported in April. "Those investors have given nearly $42,000 to Collins's political campaigns over the years, a review of campaign finance records found."
This brings us back to his donor list.
Revolving-door congressman-turned-lobbyist Bill Paxon was one of the 2016 investors in Innate and is a 2017 donor to Collins' campaign. A handful of other Buffalo businessmen who are Collins donors got in the Innate game, some of them long before Collins was in Congress.
Collins' friends who bought discounted stock in 2016 would have paid around 25 or 34 cents per share, according to the New York Times. Shortly after the bill became law, the price skyrocketed, eventually to $1.77 per share in January. Shortly before that peak is when reporters overheard Collins talking on the phone saying, "Do you know how many millionaires I've made in Buffalo the past few months?"
Being a donor or friend of Chris Collins pays off.
It's with this brief history in mind that we need to consider Collins' current efforts on the drug discount program called 340B. Medicaid covers prescription drugs, which provides a pipeline of taxpayer money for drug companies, and 340B in effect requires drugmakers to offer a discount on some drugs to certain hospitals and clinics that largely serve poor populations dependent on Medicaid.
Drugmakers dislike the program because it eats into profits. They point out that the discounts, rather than being passed along to patients, often just pad the bottom line of the clinics or hospitals. The lobbying fight over reforming, preserving, or killing 340B is fierce. And Collins has weighed into it.
"Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY), who is working on a 340B reform bill he expects to release in the next month or so," reported Inside Health Policy, an industry journal May 4, "views the drug discount program as a driver of rising drug costs and said he is telling the administration one way to tackle drug prices is to reform the program."
Collins made this argument at a summit sponsored by the Alliace for Integrity and Reform of 340B, a coalition of drugmakers and industry lobby groups.
Both sides in this lobbying fight have valid arguments. Given Medicaid's involvement, everyone is, in effect, asking for some sort of special treatment. Now that Collins has weighed in, though, it's time to keep an eye on his donor list and his stock portfolio.
Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.