Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Democratic Party makes ethics complaint about Tom Cotton

Posted By on Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 6:35 AM

click to enlarge REGULAR GUEST: Tom Cotton appears often on Hugh Hewitt's right-wing radio show. On one occasion, he stepped over an ethical line, Democrats charge.
  • REGULAR GUEST: Tom Cotton appears often on Hugh Hewitt's right-wing radio show. On one occasion, he stepped over an ethical line, Democrats charge.
The Arkansas Democratic Party will have a news conference today to talk about its complaint to the Office of Professional Ethics that U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton may have conducted a radio interview that included an appeal for campaign support while at the U.S. Capitol Sept. 30. He has said he stepped outside with his phone during three interviews with right-wing radio talker Hugh Hewitt, who said repeatedly without correction by Cotton that Cotton was in the House cloak room. Hewitt said later he must have been mistaken. Democrats say there's "substantial reason to believe" that Cotton violated House rules by using public resources for political activity.

The House was in session at the time, holding a series of votes that led to the government shutdown.

Here's the full complaint. It details the backpedaling done by Hewitt and Cotton's staff when national attention focused on Cotton's campaign appeal during the day of House activity. Rules for staff note that they must not discuss campaign matters from congressional offices and must do so on their own time.

These principles apply no less to the Members themselves. Congressman Cotton appears to have flagrantly violated them, by taking a campaign interview from the Capitol. He cannot claim that Mr. Hewitt's inquiry about his fundraising was "incidental," when it was the very first question he was asked, and when he converted it into a blatant appeal for campaign funds.

There is substantial reason to believe also that Congressman Cotton, by making his fundraising appeal from the Capitol, violated a federal criminal law that makes it unlawful for "Members of Congress, to solicit or receive a donation of money or other thing of value in connection with a Federal, State, or local election, while in any room or building occupied in the discharge of official duties ..." 

The Committee on Ethics warns Members that this prohibition "is very broad." "The statute by its terms applies to the House office buildings, the Capitol, and district offices." Id. With an exception for Member-to-Member solicitations not implicated here, "the prohibition applies to all forms of solicitations – solicitations made in person, over the telephone, or through the mail ... A telephone solicitation from a House office or building would not be permissible merely because the call is billed to a credit card of a political organization or to an outside telephone number, or because it is made using a cell phone in the hallway."

As for the excuse that Hewitt was in error, the complaint says:

Finally, the Congressman's disavowals, through staff, of Mr. Hewitt's statements — "He isn't responsible for correcting Hugh's misstatements about his location" — show a fundamental misunderstanding of his obligations under House Rules. It is the Congressman, not Mr. Hewitt, who must "conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House." House Rule 23, Clause 1. Even if the Congressman were on his way out the Capitol door while making his fundraising pitch over Mr. Hewitt's airwaves, as his staff says he was, he was obliged nonetheless to avoid the impression that he allowed Mr. Hewitt to create.

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