Modified: August 8, 2018 5:09pm
Since the news broke that Congressman Chris Collins was indicted on multiple charges in federal court for securities fraud and insider trading I have thought not just about the specifics of the matter, but also the impact the arrest of another public official on charges of what is in essence an abuse of power would have on the public and their view of our democratic institutions.
As most know, Chris Collins and I have a long history dating back to when I was comptroller and he county executive of Erie County. It is not necessarily a good history, most clearly defined by when I ran against him for the county executive’s office in 2011. While our history has been at times acrimonious, nevertheless I do not take joy in watching him be accused of committing serious crimes, acts which could result in him being imprisoned, because every time a public official is accused of such crimes there is a tendency for the general public to believe all elected officials engage in such behavior.
It seems no week can pass by without another public official or member of government being arrested somewhere in the United States for a crime related to the abuse of one’s public office. Each time a public official is arrested or convicted of a crime the public’s trust and confidence in all elected officials is eroded. When the public loses confidence in their elected officials to act in the public’s best interest, not their own interest, our democracy is weakened.
While many in the public will often say all elected officials are “crooks” nothing could be further from the truth. There are many good men and women on both sides of the political aisle who enter public service for the right reasons and serve their entire careers with honor, dignity and integrity.
None of us is greater than the office we hold or the people we represent. When you leave office, and we will all eventually leave office, the only thing you take with you is your reputation. Every official should be dedicated to the proposition of leaving their community in better shape than when they were first elected and the people’s view of you as being an honorable, good steward for the greater community.
Ethics, integrity and honesty in office matter. That is one reason why I worked so hard to pass a new, strong ethics law for Erie County, and I was proud to sign that bill into law this year after its unanimous bi-partisan passage by our legislature. That is why the late Representative Louise Slaughter worked tirelessly to pass the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (“STOCK”) Act to ban insider trading among members of Congress. That is what government officials at all levels should do: pass legislation that strengthens the public’s trust in its officials, not act in a manner to weaken it.
The crimes charged against Congressman Collins are very serious. As an attorney I know it is a guiding tenet of our democracy that anyone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, and thus Mr. Collins is presumed innocent until proven otherwise. However, his alleged use of confidential information to benefit those close to him goes straight to the heart of whether we as elected officials serve the public or ourselves. If Mr. Collins is convicted or pleads guilty to a lesser charge he must immediately resign from office and offer an apology to his constituents for violating the trust placed in him by the people of 27th Congressional District. The people of his district, like the constituents for any office, deserve nothing less than to know their representative is working on their behalf.