WASHINGTON -- There's an easy way for Rep. Tom Cotton to ease concerns that he may have violated ethics rules by soliciting campaign funds from the U.S. Capitol: reveal his cell phone bill.
The Arkansas Republican, who aims to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in the November election, was hit with a House ethics complaint from state Democrats after he solicited campaign donations during a radio interview allegedly conducted from the Republican cloakroom just off the U.S. House floor. At the time, Cotton was talking to conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who repeatedly asserted that Cotton was calling him from the Republican cloakroom.
Asking for campaign contributions would be a violation of ethics rules if the congressman had indeed been in the cloakroom. Cotton's campaign later said that the interview started in the cloakroom, but that he had walked outside the building by the time he pitched his campaign website. It then amended that explanation to say Cotton only called into the show from the cloakroom and was outside before the interview began. Hewitt and his producer changed the story further, telling HuffPost that Cotton never said he was in the cloakroom.
It would be difficult to prove exactly if and when Cotton was in the cloakroom, unless fellow Republicans happened to eavesdrop on him and were willing to tell House ethics investigators.
But there is something that would be easy to prove: whether Cotton was speaking on a phone paid for by the federal government, which also would be a violation of the rules. Indeed, campaign operatives who work on Capitol Hill generally carry two separate cell phones to ensure they don't break the rules.
Cotton's expenses for his congressional office show he spends plenty on cell phone service -- at least $320 a month for a Verizon Wireless account -- but the actual bills paid by House officials are unavailable for public review. In order for the public to find out if Cotton was using a campaign-provided phone, a government-funded phone or his own phone for the call with Hewitt, he would have to release the relevant bill.
The Huffington Post has asked his campaign and his House office to provide the bill. Neither has responded.
There is an incentive for Cotton to release the bill. If he used something other than a government phone, it would bolster the idea that he pays attention to the rules and would give the House Ethics Committee less reason to proceed with the Democrats' complaint.
On the other hand, if Cotton were sloppy in his use of phones, it could prompt opponents to wonder whether he used an official phone on other campaign-related calls, including numerous interviews with Hewitt as well as gab sessions with other conservative commentators like Moe Lane and Alice Stewart.