WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party of Arkansas wants U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, to refund taxpayer dollars it claims were used to pay for purported town hall meetings that Democrats contend were nothing more than campaign events.
Democrats complained Thursday about stops Cotton, the likely challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor’s re-election bid in 2014, made last week in El Dorado and last month in Hot Springs. They claimed that a Cotton campaign blog post confirmed the events were campaign-related and not official business.
“Congressman Cotton should refund the taxpayers for the costs of his ‘town hall.’ They weren’t town halls at all. They were scripted press conferences for the benefit of his campaign for Senate and done on the taxpayers’ dime,” said DPA spokesman Patrick Burgwinkle.
Cotton campaign spokesman David Ray said the Democrats wrongly interpreted his blog post, and that the town hall meetings were part of Cotton’s official business as a member of Congress.
“The campaign was in south Arkansas last week. Specifically, there was a fundraising breakfast in Magnolia hosted by Beth Anne Rankin. The same day, the congressional office held a town hall meeting in El Dorado,” Ray said.
The blog post in question reads: “In case you missed it, Tom took his campaign for US Senate to south Arkansas last week. While he was there, he met with constituents in El Dorado about the damaging effects of Obamacare, including the current insurance cancellation crisis and the spike that most Arkansans are seeing in their insurance premiums.”
The blog then points to a link to an article in the El Dorado News-Times that covered the town hall meeting.
Ray said that there is nothing unethical about “posting media stories to a campaign website, and that’s all that happened here.”
Burgwinkle said the town hall issue was just another example of Cotton “placing his ambition for higher office ahead of his official duties.”
Arkansas Democrats had raised concerns last month after Cotton refused to allow a Democratic Party staffer entrance to the town hall meeting in Hot Springs. They complained the staffer should have been allowed to videotape the event held at a hotel because it was paid for with public funds.
Cotton’s congressional staff said that it only allows media it has credentialed to record its town hall events.
Arkansas Democrats also complained that the events were not actual town hall meetings since no members of the audience were allowed to ask questions directly.