New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins announced on Saturday that he would suspend his bid for re-election after initially vowing to remain on the ballot for his race this fall despite facing insider trading charges.
In doing so, Collins joined a not-so-exclusive club of lawmakers who have refused to resign even after being indicted.Members of that club almost always meet an unhappy fate.
Like Collins, most lawmakers in a similar situation initially vowed to fight, but wound up quickly caving in to bad press and resigning. A handful managed to win re-election only to have to give up the seat later after being convicted.
But there is also a select group who dug in, fought the charges, and despite months or years of terrible optics, emerged on the other side in good shape, legally and electorally.
The insistence on sticking around comes down to the bedrock of the American legal system.
“You’re innocent until proven guilty,” James Gardner, a professor of election and constitutional law at the University at Buffalo School of Law, told NBC News. “Doesn’t matter if you’re under an enormous cloud of suspicion or whether you’ve deceived shareholders and the American public to personally profit.”
There is no federal or state law that bars someone from appearing on a ballot because they have been indicted on criminal charges. Candidates in most states can even seek election if they are convicted, creating little incentive to quit, especially if the seat is, like Collins’, considered a sure bet for re-election.
“You expect people to do the right thing, to resign. In many cases it could, and should, be that simple,” said Gardner. “Politics isn’t simple.”
History contains plenty of examples where things didn’t go well.