Chris Collins Un-Suspends Campaign Despite Securities Fraud Indictment

Indicted New York Congressman Chris Collins will run for re-election despite being indictment for securities fraud.

Early last month, New York Congressman Chris Collins, who was among the first Members of Congress to endorse Donald Trump’s bid for the Republican nomination and the Presidency, was indicted on multiple counts of securities fraud and insider trading related to the stock of a company for which he sat on the Board of Directors. Initially, Collins said that he intended to fight the charges and that he would remain on the ballot in November, which posted obvious challenges for Republicans hoping to hold on to a district that the GOP would ordinarily win. Several days after his indictment, though, Collins announced that he was suspending his campaign and appeared to indicate that he would leave Congress at the end of his term. That announcement set in motion efforts by Republican officials in upstate New York to find an alternative candidate and a legal method to get Collins off the ballot in a manner permitted by New York’s somewhat convoluted election laws. That effort is still ongoing apparently, but Collins has thrown a monkey wrench into the process by announcing that he will run for re-election after all:

Representative Chris Collins, the New York Republican indicted on insider trading charges last month, reversed course on Monday and announced he would seek another term.

Mr. Collins opted to stay on the ballot on the advice of lawyers who said his removal — a Byzantine procedure governed by New York’s complex election laws — would most likely face a Democratic lawsuit, and would muddle the election for his replacement, ultimately leaving the Western New York seat vulnerable to Democrats.

“Because of the protracted and uncertain nature of any legal effort to replace Congressman Collins, we do not see a path allowing Congressman Collins to be replaced on the ballot,” Mark Braden, a lawyer for Mr. Collins, said in a statement.

The decision ends a month of wrangling by would-be potential successors and is likely to buoy Democrats hoping to steal a seat from Republicans in one of the most conservative bastions in New York.

Local Republican leaders seemed to be blindsided by the development, which was first reported by The Buffalo News.

In August, county leaders interviewed several candidates, including state legislators, who were eager to replace Mr. Collins on the Republican line. The plan was to nominate Mr. Collins for a lesser district office later this week, perhaps a town clerkship or assessor’s post, a move that Mr. Collins had assured them that he would support.

“We’ve been working for six weeks on this, and we felt there was a clear avenue to replace Congressman Collins, with his cooperation,” Nick Langworthy, chairman of the Erie County Republican Committee, said at a news conference on Monday.

“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,” he added.

As I noted in the post last month about Collins suspending his campaign, New York law only allows political parties to replace a candidate on the ballot this close to Election Day. Among those are death and the appointment of the candidate to another office at the state or local level. Toward that end, Republican officials were working on a plan that would have placed Collins in a Town Clerkship or some similar position, thus allowing Republicans to pick a new candidate for the ballot. It’s unclear if that would be sufficient under New York law, and Democrats were threatening to file a lawsuit if Republicans went ahead with the plan. In any case, Collins’s announcement that he will campaign for re-election after all puts an end to those plans and leaves Republicans stuck with an incumbent under indictment in a case where his guilt seems, based on the indictment, to be rather apparent.

Jazz Shaw, who lives in upstate New York, offers this assessment:

Is this a strategic legal move? A political calculation? Possibly a bit of both. Collins and his attorney have maintained his claims of innocence and he gives every impression that he honestly believes he can beat the rap. Running for another term may be a way of swaying the court of public opinion, carrying on as if everything is normal. It’s going to be a tough row to hoe, however, because the feds seem to have a pretty solid case.

But from the political perspective, this might not be the worst thing. When the news first broke, I offered the opinion that the best thing Collins could do for the party would be to maintain his innocence, keep running, win the race in a very red district where he remains popular, and then just resign next year if he’s found guilty. That way, a special election would have to be called and the GOP would hold the seat, though it might be empty for a few months. And while the optics have deteriorated a bit, that’s still not the worst plan in the world. Collins’ Democratic opponent obviously has a lot of ammunition to work with, but as I said, this is a very conservative, GOP-friendly district. Collins is a known figure and if he makes his case to the voters in a clear voice, he could probably still squeak out another win.

In an ordinary election year, Collins’ district, the 27th Congressional District, would be safely Republican. The Cook Political Reportfor example, currently lists it as an R+11 district and ranks the race as “Leans Republican,” as does Inside Elections. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, meanwhile, lists the seat as “Likely Republican.” It’s worth noting, though, that all three of these ratings were made prior to Collins announcing that he will stay in the race after all. Whether that rating changes in light of yesterday’s decision remains to be seen.

The question voters in the district will have to face, of course, is whether they want to support a candidate who is under indictment on very serious charges that could result in several years in prison if he is convicted or a Democrat notwithstanding the fact that they are generally inclined to support Republicans. At least part of that calculation will have to include the prospect that Collins could be convicted or plead guilty and thus be unable to serve out the remainder of his term. Under those circumstances, and assuming that Collins wins re-election in the midterm, then a Special Election would need to be held to determine who will hold the seat until the next General Election in 2020.

So it’s up to you residents of the 27th election, the accused criminal or the Democrat?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2018, Congress, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    As I noted in the post last month about Collins suspending his campaign, New York law only allows political parties to replace a candidate on the ballot this close to Election Day. Among those are death and the appointment of the candidate to another office at the state or local level.

    Doug, I think you’re missing some qualification on the first sentence, for example “in rare exceptions/circumstances.”

  2. mattbernius says:

    I think Shaw’s analysis is spot on. The last time that district went Democratic it was for Kathy Houcul (and she had been county clerk and it was a special election after Chris Lee resigned. Collins took the seat back from her.

    It’s going to take a LOT to unseat him this time regardless of the charge.

    Also, I didn’t realize Jazz Shaw lived in Upstate NY (though for those of us North and West of Manhatten and the Island, that doesn’t tell us much… we know it’s all Upstate to everyone from that area).

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Nothing says “Republican” like spending millions of tax payer dollars for a special election just to keep a congressional seat “R”.

  4. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    If the district is a conservative as Shaw claims, do we really need to think about whether they’ll vote for a white collar financial fraud accused candidate over a Democrat? Of course, they will!

  5. Paine says:

    They’ll take the accused criminal. Just watch…

  6. Matt says:

    @Paine: Well of course because all demoncRATS are evil and criminals!!!!

    Basic mindset of some of the Republican voters I’ve talked to lately.