story by Roby Brock, a TCW content partner and owner of Talk Business
A bipartisan House panel unanimously rejected an ethics complaint filed months ago by the Democratic Party of Arkansas against GOP Senate hopeful U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, but a new complaint has surfaced that has the two camps in another testy battle.
On Wednesday (April 9), Cotton’s Senate campaign released copies of the ethics complaint dismissal from allegations made in October 2013. Democrats claimed Cotton violated House rules by soliciting funds in the U.S. House of Representatives – which is prohibited – when he conducted a radio interview asking for listeners to contribute at his Senate campaign web site.
Cotton said he was outside of the U.S. Capitol building during that interview. On a 6-0 vote, the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) recommended dismissal of the complaint after it investigated the charge saying “there is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Cotton was inside a House office, room or building when he solicited campaign funds.”
A subsequent letter from the House Committee on Ethics reported, “As a result of its review, the Committee unanimously voted to dismiss the matter, consistent with the recommendation in OCE’s referral,” the letter said. “Therefore, the committee considers this matter closed.”
Cotton’s campaign said it did not have to disclose the ethics committee findings, but it chose to after the latest allegation coming from former Arkansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Jack Holt, a Democrat.
A spokesman for the Democratic Party of Arkansas, Patrick Burgwinkle, tells Talk Business, “Congressman Cotton has yet to provide a shred of evidence that he was not fundraising inside the Capitol on the eve of the government shutdown he caused that cost taxpayers $24 billion. Serious questions still remain about Congressman Cotton’s commitment to ethical behavior, as former Chief Justice Holt’s ethics complaint demonstrates.”
Holt filed a complaint that Cotton did not properly disclose clients that he worked for as a consultant at McKinsey & Co. prior to his Congressional service.
“Specifically, Mr. Cotton failed to fully identify his sources of compensation on the Personal Financial Disclosure Statement he filed as a House candidate on May 31, 2012. Although he identified McKinsey & Company, Inc. as a source of income, he did not identify any of the clients for whom he provided services in excess of $5,000,” Holt’s complaint reads. “Mr. Cotton’s lack of disclosure demands further investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics.”
“This is a serious matter of transparency and public accountability,” said Democratic Party of Arkansas attorney Benton Smith. “Arkansans deserve to know whether Congressman Cotton sees himself as above the law. Congressman Cotton should give a full accounting of the clients from his time as a Washington consultant so that the people of Arkansas have the information they are entitled to when they cast their votes in November.”
But Cotton spokesman David Ray said his candidate is prohibited from disclosing private clients from his 13 months at McKinsey due to a confidentiality agreement. He added that House disclosure rules are very clear, and that the Congressman did not violate any ethics rules and went beyond what was required in his Personal Financial Disclosure Statement by including his separation certification from McKinsey.
Ray pointed to the House of Representatives instruction manual which states, “You do not have to disclose the names of clients whose identities are prohibited from disclosure as a result of a …confidentiality agreement entered into with the client at the time your services were retained.”
Cotton’s “separation certification” from McKinsey and Co. states that he will not “disclose, release, or make available to any person, entity, Firm or otherwise, without the Firm’s express written consent, any such information whatsoever (not generally available to the public), including, without limitation, the contents of any reports, memoranda, or other material covering the operations and affairs of the clients or the Firm.”
Ray said Cotton would be willing to provide “sanitized descriptions” of his work done during his tenure at McKinsey. Those descriptions would provide the scope of his services and the general work he performed, but would protect clients’ identities.
Cotton has disclosed one client he performed work for at McKinsey – the Federal Housing Authority. Ray said that information had already been disclosed by McKinsey in a public report.
“Just like the Democratic Party’s previous complaints, this one is frivolous, false, and wholly without merit,” Ray tells Talk Business. “Tom has not only followed all ethics rules regarding financial disclosure, he has gone above and beyond the listed requirements by providing more information than he had to. The last time the Democratic Party filed one of these politically-motivated claims, the Office of Congressional Ethics and the Congressional Committee on Ethics both dismissed this matter in a unanimous, bipartisan fashion. Senator Pryor is desperate because he knows he will lose any comparison of his record as a rubber stamp for Obama with Tom’s common-sense conservative record. That’s why they keep trumping up phony complaints.”