While small businesses collapsed amid the global pandemic and subsequent shutdown, elected Democrats seemed to enjoy themselves. California Gov. Gavin Newsome dined on $500-per-plate dinners with friends, Nancy Pelosi managed to get her hair done, Gretchen Whitmer basked in the sun in Florida, Philly Mayor Jim Kenney dined in repeatedly — and then there’s New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski.
Malinowski has been quite the Wall Street player over the past year. The second-term Democrat from a swing district in suburban North Jersey made millions off Covid-response-related companies and failed to disclose the transactions — after his re-election in one of the most competitive races in the country in 2020. He squeaked by in a surprisingly competitive race by about 5,300 votes, out of a total of about 434,000 votes cast.
“This is not the time for anybody to be profiting off of selling ventilators, vaccines, drugs, treatments, PPE (personal protective equipment), anywhere in the world,” Malinowski declared MSNBC one month into the pandemic. He must have meant anybody except himself.
His trading decisions were hardly an innocent mistake. Malinowski is not new to Washington or the financial disclosure requirements that members of Congress face every year. Congressional reporting requirements mandate that members of Congress report transactions no later than 45 days after the transaction takes place. Despite a slew of negative reporting in the Spring, Malinowski missed June’s deadline and was forced to halt all trading until the House approves the creation of a blind trust for his stock holding.
‘This is not the time for anybody to be profiting off of selling ventilators, vaccines, drugs, treatments, PPE, anywhere in the world,’ Malinowski declared. He must have meant anybody except himself.
It does not take a seasoned political strategist to see that this could cause serious political problems for Malinowski, who defeated Tom Kean Jr. by one percent of the vote, and will likely meet a well-funded, battle-hardened Kean again in 2022 — in what could be a very unfavorable political environment, two years into rule by Joe Biden and Congressional Democrats. The path to the majority for congressional Republicans relies heavily on picking up marginal seats like the New Jersey 7th, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has already put the seat on their target list for next year’s cycle.
Another wrinkle in Malinowski’s political future is how congressional redistricting will play out. New Jersey is home to some of the most favorable maps for Democrats in the country, with an “excess” of three seats going to Democrats, according to political analyst Larry Sabato. Will members in similarly tenuous seats be willing to cut into adjacent congressional districts to move Malinowski from a swing seat to a safe Democratic seat at their own expense? Or will commission members move to shore up neighboring Rep. Josh Gottheimer’s and Rep. Mikie Sherrill’s districts?
It’s hard to know what will have worse political repercussions for Malinowski: his failure to report his stock transactions, the ethical hypocrisy of making millions of dollars the Covid-19 pandemic while maligning others who do the same, or an upcoming redistricting session where he might be viewed as expendable by Democratic map-drawers.
To be certain, New Jersey’s 7th congressional district is a must win for both parties and it is shaping up to be one of the most competitive — and expensive races — in the Northeast in 2022.
Bill Cortese is a New Jersey-based political consultant who advises elected officials, candidates, and business leaders on public affairs and communications strategies. @BillCortese