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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — A House ethics panel dismissed a complaint against Arkansas congressman and Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Tom Cotton that accused him of illegally soliciting donations during a radio interview at the U.S. Capitol, according to a letter released by his campaign Wednesday.
The letter was released as Cotton faced a new ethics complaint from a former chief justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court accusing the freshman lawmaker of breaking House rules by not disclosing specific clients for whom he worked as a management consultant.
The House Ethics Committee told Cotton in a letter dated March 13 that it had unanimously dismissed the complaint made in October by the state Democratic Party. The chief counsel for the committee and a spokeswoman for the Office of Congressional Ethics declined to comment, and the panel said in the letter that it did not intend to release the letter publicly.
"As a result of its review, the committee unanimously voted to dismiss the matter, consistent with the recommendation in the OCE's referral," the letter said. "Therefore, the committee considers this matter closed."
A spokesman for the state Democratic Party declined to comment on the dismissal.
The complaint focused on a Sept. 30 phone interview Cotton gave to talk radio host Hugh Hewitt. During the interview, Cotton said supporters could visit his website to contribute to his bid to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor. Democrats complained that Cotton violated rules barring members of Congress from soliciting donations while inside the Capitol.
Although Hewitt said during the interview that Cotton was speaking from inside the Capitol, Cotton's office said after the interview that he had not been in the building when he mentioned the website. Hewitt later said he was mistaken in saying Cotton was at the Capitol throughout the interview.
The ethics office's board on Feb. 27 recommended the dismissal, finding there "is not substantial reason to believe that Representative Cotton was inside a House office, room or building when he solicited campaign funds," according to an attached report.
Cotton's campaign released the letters to The Associated Press after being asked about a complaint filed by former Chief Justice Jack Holt Jr. Holt, a Democrat, questions Cotton's work for McKinsey & Company, claiming the freshman lawmaker violated House rules by not identifying any of the clients for whom he provided services in excess of $5,000. Cotton was elected to Congress in 2012 and represents south Arkansas' 4th District.
"We've made it available to you because they're trying to pull another politically motivated stunt and that's why we've chosen to release it," Cotton spokesman David Ray said.
Holt said he filed the complaint on his own, but he told the AP that Pryor's campaign provided him with copies of Cotton's financial disclosure reports when he told them he planned on asking for the investigation. A spokesman for Pryor's campaign declined to comment.
In the complaint dated Wednesday, Holt said not specifying the clients "raises questions about the nature of Mr. Cotton's work on behalf of these entities."
"Such concerns are precisely the reason why disclosure of such clients is required, and Mr. Cotton's failure to comply with these simple requirements makes it impossible for the people of Arkansas to understand how his private work may affect his actions as a public official," Holt wrote in the complaint.
In a House Ethics instruction guide, candidates are told they don't have to disclose specific clients whose identities are prohibited from being released as a result of nondisclosure agreements. In a financial disclosure report filed in 2012, Cotton reported receiving nearly $85,000 from McKinsey, a management consulting firm, but he cited a confidentiality agreement. He also included a "separation certification" he signed with the firm that cited the nondisclosure.
Holt also questioned whether Cotton is bound by the confidentiality agreement, saying Cotton's campaign has released some information about his clients.
Ray, Cotton's spokesman, said the latest complaint had no merit.
"Just like the Democratic Party's previous complaints, this one is false, frivolous and wholly without merit," Ray said. "Tom has not only followed all ethics rules regarding financial disclosure, he has gone above and beyond the requirements by providing more information than he had to."
The complaint is the latest example of Cotton, an Army veteran who worked in management consulting before running for Congress, being targeted over his consulting work.
Senate Majority PAC has been airing a television ad accusing Cotton of being "paid handsomely by insurance companies" before joining Congress. That claim has been criticized as false by the Washington Post's fact checking website after Cotton's supervisor said the only insurance work he did was for the Federal Housing Authority.
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