Congress

Democrats insist new details warrant SEC probe into Tom Price’s stock trades

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2017 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, to testify at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee.
FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2017 file photo, Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, to testify at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. AP

Senate Democrats have renewed their call for a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Price, citing “possible violations” of insider trading rules.

The request – the latest effort by Senate Democrats to stall the Trump nominee’s confirmation vote – comes as the Senate is poised to vote on the Georgia Republican congressman’s nomination as early as this week. New information about Price’s stock trading “should preclude” that vote, argued Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, who was joined by her fellow Democrats on the panel.

At issue is the Trump nominee’s purchase of stock in Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian company that stood to benefit from legislation that allows for speedier clinical drug trials.

Price testified before the Senate health committee that he had purchased the stock at the same price that was available to all other investors. But the Senate Democrats noted that The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Price had purchased discounted shares in two separate private placements offered to fewer than 20 U.S. investors. The senators said the company’s chief executive officer had confirmed that the discount price was not available to all U.S. investors.

In an email interview last week with McClatchy, Innate Immunotherapeutics CEO Simon Wilkinson disputed that Price had gotten insider or privileged information about the company before he purchased the stock.

He told McClatchy that Price was not an “initial” investor in a private offering of company stock but rather had heard about the offering through a “family and friends” offer that gave first shots to people who had been advised about the offering by people who own significant shares.

In this case that was Rep. Christopher Collins, R-N.Y., who is a director of the company, according to Wilkinson and Price’s congressional testimony.

But the senators, in a letter to the SEC sent Friday, said Collins’ and Wilkinson’s accounts changed again. In an email mistakenly sent to CNN, Collins said the offer “was made available to every U.S. shareholder who had ever participated in any share offering in the U.S.”

The Democrats’ letter to the SEC also says that although Price says conversations with Collins abut the company did not influence his decision to purchase the stock, Collins told The Wall Street Journal otherwise. Collins told the newspaper that after telling Price about a private placement, “Price asked if he could participate.”

The account, the senators wrote, “renews questions regarding whether Rep. Price benefited from information not available to the general public.”

Republicans hope Price will play a leading role in rolling back former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, but Democrats have looked to stall his nomination, raising repeated questions about his stock trades. Senate Democrats on the health committee called on the SEC in January to investigate Price’s stock deals. They’ve also called for an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

The SEC declined to comment. A spokesman for HHS, Ryan Murphy, said any suggestion that Price’s “motivations for public service have been anything other than to seek to improve the lives of the American people is simply wrong.”

Senate Democrats are mostly expected to vote against Price, but they don’t have the votes to block his nomination and few Republicans seem inclined to join them.

Democrats twice boycotted a Senate Finance Committee meeting last week that was to vote on Price’s nomination. Republicans waived committee rules and approved Price with a unanimous vote.

Price has denied any wrongdoing, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has accused Democrats of launching “grossly exaggerated and distorted attacks” on the nominee.

Lesley Clark: 202-383-6054, @lesleyclark

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