Just two months into his second term, the campaign for Rep. Tom Malinowski’s (D-Ringoes) House seat already swinging.
Republicans have launched repeated attacks at the congressman over his failure to properly disclose at least $671,000 over 100 different stock trades, a failure Malinowski has said was the result of an oversight.
The trades, he said, were made by a financial advisor, and he told NJ Advance Media there was “no good reason” for the absent filings “other than putting off difficult paperwork in the crunch of my responsibilities.”
Republicans don’t buy that explanation and have seized on the issue in an attempt to ding the Democrat, who won a second term over State Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean. Jr. (R-Westfield) by a little more than a point in a race where votes took weeks to tally.
“While businesses were suffering, Congressman Tom Malinowski was busy moving stocks around so he can profit off the pandemic,” Republican House candidate Rik Mehta said in a social media post Monday.
Mehta ran for U.S. Senate in what was widely viewed as an unwinnable race — the GOP last won one of New Jersey’s U.S. Senate seats in 1972 — but in early February launched a campaign for the seventh congressional district House seat.
He’ll likely face Kean in the primary. The minority leader is not seeking re-election to his seat in the State Senate this year, and while he has not said whether he would mount another run for Congress, he’s widely expected to enter the race.
But the attack isn’t the first the congressman has faced from the National Republican Congressional Committee and outside conservative groups.
“We’ve been getting attacks since the start of the term. We’ve got the school reopening attacks. We’ve got the vaccine attacks. You’ve got the links the Murphy,” a Malinowski spokesperson said. “This is just one in a bucket of what is never going to stop. He’s a top target.”
The incumbent’s campaign views the jabs as test strikes to see what messaging will be most effective when the race kicks off in earnest next year. Though GOP operatives have continued to circulate the attack on social media, it’s been a week since the NRCC last broadly pushed them to the press.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is active in the district too. Last week, they launched digital ads touting Malinowski’s support of the recently passed $1.9 trillion virus relief bill.
But the vulnerability is not unique to the former assistant secretary of state, nor are the ads necessarily tied to the most recent Republican attacks. The DCCC launched nearly identical ads in the third and 11th congressional districts, where two-term Reps. Andy Kim (D-Bordentown) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) hold seats. A DCCC spokesman did not respond to an inquiry about the size of the buy or the ad’s placement.
While his fellows in the House delegation have been subject to some attacks, none have suffered them to the same degree as Malinowski, perhaps because Republicans see a strong candidate in Kean, the son of former Gov. Tom Kean.
The younger Kean has spent 18 years in the Senate, including 13 as minority leader.
“Until they decide whatever their line of messaging is and put it on television, one attack is equal to any other for me,” the spokesperson said. “If it’s real and it’s legitimate, we’re going to do what we need to do to make sure we’re right with our constituents, but I suspect Tom is just going to continue to bear the brunt of this.”
The fracas over the stock buys was avoidable, Rasmussen said. Other Democrats in the House, including ones in New Jersey, have pulled out of individual stocks to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Sherrill began pulling her money out of individual stocks and put them into exchange-traded funds (ETFs) last January.
“It’s a very smart way of avoiding any controversy,” Rasmussen said. “This is a little bit different, obviously, but it invites scrutiny on every one of those stock trades. And then you weave it into votes that he might have taken, and it’s just a road he didn’t have to go down. It’s a road that he did not have to open up.”
Malinowski is now moving to establish a blind trust. It’s not clear exactly when that’ll be finalized, as the trust must first be approved by the House Ethics Committee.
Malinowski’s missed filings, first reported by Business Insider, have spurred ethics complaints from watchdog groups. The congressman has said he’s willing to pay a fine, and there’s not been any evidence to suggest his violations extend past the lateness of his filings.
But that could be cold comfort once the campaigns in New Jersey’s 7th district leave their nascence.
One top Republican political consultant shared a glimpse of what may be coming in a harsh attack on Malinowski.
“Tom Malinowski was making secret stock deals in the earliest days of the pandemic,” said Harrison Neely, who was Kean’s strategist in 2020. “He broke the law and avoided political scrutiny when he failed to disclose selling out on the retail industry and trying to profit from companies providing COVID tests. His constituents deserve complete transparency while he is investigated.”
Malinowski sold shares of Chembio Diagnostics, a New York-based infectious disease testing firm, on March 19, 2020, when it closed at $2.93. It’s stock price ballooned the next day, peaking at $15.54 in late April after it announced a $4 million.
The $2.93 closing price was lower than it was on every other day in the last five years except three: March 18, 17 and 16 of 2020. The spokesperson said Malinowski sold at a loss.
The grievances against Malinowski follow high-profile allegations of wrongdoing by Democrats against Republican lawmakers in 2020.
Claims that two GOP U.S. Senators from Georgia profited off stock trades that came at a time when they had inside information in the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic.
There’s no indication Malinowski benefited from confidential information available to him as a member of Congress.
That became a major issue in the campaigns of David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler and their losses led to a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate.
“It’s going to be a contested election. It’s not like anything would be on or off the table,” Rasmussen said. “He didn’t put it on the table by having missed the deadline, but you add another layer to the story. It adds another layer to any attack on any of those trades. You can condemn the non-disclosure.”