Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), Donald Trump's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, was already an extremely troubling candidate. Now, he is at the center of a snowballing ethics scandal involving possible insider trading and violations of the STOCK Act.
Shareblue has covered, in great detail, why President-elect Donald Trump’s Secretary of Health and Human Services-designate Tom Price is a nightmare of a selection with very troubling and regressive views.
Now, a series of escalating ethics scandals could scuttle Price’s nomination altogether.
As reported by CNN, Price reportedly bought stocks in a medical device company right before he introduced legislation that benefited the company:
Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN.
Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.
CNN goes on to report that, following Price’s legislative assist, Zimmer Biomet’s “political action committee donated to the congressman’s reelection campaign,” the second such donation following Price’s involvement in the issue.
This latest bombshell follows a December Wall Street Journal report on Price’s shady activities, including that Price “bought and sold stock in about 40 health-care, pharmaceutical and biomedical companies since 2012,” during which time he also “sponsored nine and co-sponsored 35 health-related bills in the House.”
The report also found that Price “traded more than $300,000 in shares of health-related companies over the past four years while sponsoring and advocating legislation that potentially could affect those companies’ stocks.”
Underscoring the difficulties Price could face is his agreement with the Office of Government Ethics, listing 43 companies from which Price has promised to divest himself, which may be helpful if he is confirmed, but which leaves a clear trail for investigators to follow. That ethics agreement does not include a blind trust.
Price’s confirmation will surely face intense questioning from Democrats, who are taking these matters very seriously. DNC senior adviser Zac Petkanas issued a brief statement that managed to sum up Price’s machinations: “This is called corruption.”
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has been more voluble, even raising the possibility that Price violated the law in addition to standards of ethical conduct. In an emailed statement this week, Schumer said: “The Office of Congressional Ethics needs to conduct an immediate and thorough investigation into these potential violations of the STOCK Act before Rep. Price’s nomination moves forward.”
Schumer is now telling CNN that Price may have violated the law, and that his confirmation is in serious jeopardy:
RAJU: Senator, Tom Price traded shares in a health care company while pursuing health care legislation. What’s your reaction to that?
SCHUMER: This is very, very troubling. This is not some broad legislation, cut all Medicare and affect some large company like Johnson & Johnson. This is a very narrow, specific company that dealt with implants, hip and knee. And the legislation specifically affects implants. He puts it in a week after he buys the stock? That cries out for an investigation.
RAJU: By the House ethics committee?
SCHUMER: By the House ethics committee or, who knows? I mean, if he knew about it, it could very well be a violation of the law.
RAJU: You think he broke the law?
[edit back to studio]
RAJU: So, when I asked him, “Do you think he broke the law,” he said, “It’s very possible that he did.” I said, do you think he should step down, John. When I asked him that, he said, “I don’t know if he’ll get confirmed.” He said that “he’s digging himself a very deep hole,” and it’s going to be awfully hard, according to Chuck Schumer, to get out of this.
Schumer is not buying the Trump camp’s defense that Price’s transaction was “directed by a broker,” and that Price did not know about the purchase until after the legislation was introduced. At the very least, he is not taking their word for it.
Finally, new reporting by Time magazine shows that Price “invested last year as much as $90,000 in six pharmaceutical companies shortly before leading a legislative and public relations effort that benefited those specific companies,” according to the same disclosure forms that CNN cited.
Given the heavy lifting that may be required to confirm nominees like Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson, some Republicans may not be willing to expend the political capital necessary to force through a nominee with such a cloud hanging over him, and Democrats will make sure that calculation is plain.
What is important to note, though, is that, irrespective of whether Price’s confirmation succeeds, his veneer of corruption will inevitably serve as a reminder that the president-elect who chose him has done nothing to shed his own ethical stains.