Senate Democrats Seek Ethics Probe of Trump’s HHS Nominee

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By Alex Ruoff

Leading Senate Democrats want to halt the confirmation of President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for the next HHS secretary until an ethics probe of his investments is complete.

Tom Price, a House Republican from Georgia, invested more than $300,000 in health-care companies while advocating legislation that could benefit those same companies, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters Jan. 5. Some of these investments, particularly in certain pharmaceutical companies, could be considered insider trading because Price was granted access to nonpublic information as a member of Congress, critics say. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Price’s investments.

“In the spirit of draining the swamp, we need to ensure that our nominees for top Cabinet posts prioritize the welfare of all Americans over their own financial gain,” Schumer said, referring to Trump’s campaign promise to curb insider influence on the federal government and policy.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, which is responsible for confirming Price as head of the Department of Health and Human Services, told reporters he doesn’t want Price confirmed until the congressman has submitted to the committee more information on his investments. A Finance Committee staff member told Bloomberg BNA Price hasn’t submitted a letter from the House’s independent ethics commission certifying he’s taken steps to avoid conflicts of interest in his position as HHS secretary, normally given to the committee as part of the screening process for nominees.

Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for a series of battles over Trump nominees, including Price. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) warned Democrats during a speech on the Senate floor Jan. 5 that “slow-walking” nominees could be disruptive to the next administration—which is the likely goal of Democrats.

The liberal anti-corruption group Public Citizen sent letters to both the House Office of Congressional Ethics and the Securities and Exchange Commission requesting an investigation into Price’s investments and those of Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), a Trump ally who often acts as a liaison between the president-elect and Congress.

Phil Blando, a Trump transition team spokesman, called Schumer’s request for an investigation “hypocrisy” and claimed in a statement that a number of Senate Democrats have similarly traded stocks in health-care companies. Trump announced in December he wanted Price to lead the HHS.

A spokesperson for Price didn’t return a request for comment from Bloomberg BNA.

Price’s Investments

At the heart of Schumer’s concerns is an August 2016 investment by Price into the Australian biomedical firm Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd. Price invested between $50,000 and $100,000 in the company at that time, according to financial disclosure documents Price filed as a lawmaker.

Price was advocating for passage of the 21st Century Cures Act at the time he invested in the company, Craig Holman, a lobbyist for Public Citizen who sent the letters requesting investigations of Price and Collins, told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 5. The Cures Act, signed into law in December, works to speed drug approvals.

Price also purchased a stake in companies that operate in the biomedical and health industry in 2016, such as Amgen Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb, Abbott Labs, Eli Lilly and Pfizer. His stake in these companies range from $1,001 to $15,000, according to filings.

Public Citizen has accused Price and Collins of violating the 2012 Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which specified that members of Congress are not exempt from SEC insider trading rules. Under the STOCK Act, lawmakers can’t use nonpublic information they’re privy to as members of Congress to guide their investments.

Holman acknowledged that owning the stocks alone isn’t proof that Price or Collins was guilty of insider trading.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Ruoff in Washington at aruoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Kendra Casey Plank at kcasey@bna.com

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