TOM COTTON (file photo) Michael Vadon

Several years ago, an unassuming Little Rock apartment became the official home of a U.S. senator.

In signed paper filings, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and his wife switched their voting residence from a house in Dardanelle to a 905-square-foot unit near the bank of the Arkansas River. By that time, the couple had two sons and Cotton was a national political figure.

Advertisement

But since the address change in June 2019, it remains unclear exactly how much time Cotton spends in the state he represents, with social media posts and Senate financial reports offering an imprecise view of his travel.

Further, it’s unknown how much time the couple, whose two boys are ages 6 and 7, spend at their voting residence in Little Rock.

Advertisement

David Coffman, the senator’s next-door neighbor in Little Rock, told the Arkansas Times that he never sees anyone going in or out of Cotton’s unit.

“You’ll never see him,” Coffman said of Cotton.

Advertisement

Coffman, who bought his own apartment years ago and was able to describe other people on the same floor, said he’s seen Cotton around the complex a few times in the last three years.

The man said he met the senator for an introduction and handshake in the stairwell once. But Coffman said he hasn’t seen Cotton at the complex since the summer of 2021.

Advertisement

Cotton’s apartment is immediately adjacent to Coffman’s guest bedroom. The man said that sometimes he hears noises late at night, but never during the day.

He’s noticed multiple voices coming from the apartment at night as recently as early December, he said.

Advertisement

Cotton’s across-the-hall neighbor asked to remain anonymous because of concerns for her employment. The woman, who moved into her apartment in February 2021, said she has never seen anyone entering or leaving Cotton’s unit and did not think anyone lived there.

One time last year, she heard children in the apartment during a weekend, but thought that maybe the unit was functioning as an Airbnb, she told the Arkansas Times

Advertisement

Meanwhile this summer, Cotton’s personal financial disclosure report listed a 30-year mortgage through a bank in McLean, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. The mortgage was taken out last year. The mortgage ranges from $1 million to $5 million, according to the disclosure report. It’s unclear if the mortgage is for property in the D.C. area or elsewhere. 

For his part, Cotton has acknowledged having a residence in the Washington, D.C., area. 

“I’ve always had the home in Arkansas, obviously — first in Dardanelle, then in Little Rock. But since I was elected, like most members, I also have a residence in the D.C. area as well,” the senator said in an interview earlier this year. 

Cotton’s office did not respond to media inquiries for this story and did not make the senator available for an interview. 

Advertisement

News broke last month that the Republican senator would pass on a 2024 presidential run. Cotton pointed to family concerns, including that a campaign would pull him away from his sons, according to media reports.

“This is not the right time for our family for me to commit to a six-to-seven-day-a-week campaign for the next two years,” Cotton told Fox News

Arkansas appearances

It’s difficult to say precisely how much time Cotton has spent in Arkansas since changing his voting address to Little Rock.

When money from a senator’s office is used to pay for their travel, the trips are outlined in a report posted on the Senate’s website. The reports can offer a view into how often a politician journeys between Washington, D.C., and their home state. 

For example, the reports show that U.S. Sen. John Boozman frequently travels to and from The Natural State, with his office paying for several dozen of his trips between Arkansas and Washington, D.C., each year in 2019, 2020 and 2021.

And for travel from January through September of this year, Boozman’s office has paid for at least 30 trips between Arkansas and Washington, D.C., according to available Senate reports.

Unlike his Republican counterpart, the reports from Cotton’s office show a different travel schedule. Cotton’s Senate office paid for zero of his trips between Arkansas and Washington, D.C., in 2021, three trips in 2020 and approximately 30 trips in 2019, according to the Senate reports. 

And between January and September of this year, Cotton’s office paid for zero of his trips between Arkansas and Washington, D.C., according to available Senate reports.

His office did not respond to questions regarding if — or to what extent — the senator is using campaign funds to pay for his travel to Arkansas. The office also did not respond to questions regarding how much time the senator spends in Arkansas.

Unlike every other member of Arkansas’s congressional delegation, Cotton did not include his city of residence in the biography on his congressional website as of Dec. 20. No city of residence appears in the biography on his campaign website as well.

All four of Arkansas’s U.S. House members have said they regularly travel back to the state. 

In recent history, it’s become the norm for congressional lawmakers to try and spend as little time as possible in Washington, D.C., said Casey Burgat, director of the Legislative Affairs program at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University

With six-year terms, U.S. senators are more likely to develop stronger roots in Washington, D.C. compared to their counterparts with two-year terms in the lower chamber, Burgat said. 

Still, the expectation is that senators live in their home state and travel there as much as possible, he said.

When Congress is not in session, the expectation is that “you’re back in your district or state meeting and working with local constituencies,” he said.

Social media posts provide some insight into how often Cotton is in Arkansas, like when the senator attended a March for Life rally in Little Rock or posed outside a crime lab in Arkansas. 

In particular, Cotton’s Twitter and Facebook accounts are used to share pictures of meetings and appearances in Arkansas. But those accounts can go many weeks without posting pictures that confirm his presence in the state.

State Sen. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) said there is speculation about the amount of time the senator spends on the ground in the state. In particular, he pointed to a July post from Cotton’s Twitter account.

“One of the many reasons I’m happy to be back in Iowa — Casey’s pizza!” read the tweet, which featured a picture of Cotton with pizza outside a Casey’s general store. 

“To me, anyone who has campaigned in Arkansas ought to know that there are plenty of Casey’s general stores in Arkansas with that pizza available,” said Tucker, who ran for Arkansas’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018. “So you know, when something like that happens, it really fuels the speculation that he may not be spending a whole lot of time here.”

In the past, critics of Cotton have seized on the topic in attacking the junior senator from Arkansas. 

But any speculation about his time in the state has not appeared to hurt him at the ballot box. Cotton earned a second Senate term in 2020, winning more than 66% of the vote.

Eddie Arnold, the chairman of the Clark County Republican Committee, said Cotton is a high-profile politician who has two younger children. The senator can’t be expected to be everywhere at once, he argued.

Cotton holds a busy schedule, he said, and should be spending a significant amount of time in Washington, D.C., where he can represent conservative Arkansas values in Congress. Arnold said he’s never heard any Republicans carp about the senator not being available. 

“I’ve never heard anyone complain about that,” said Arnold, who also serves as the 4th Congressional District chair for the Republican Party of Arkansas.

Arnold also said he saw Cotton in October when the senator spoke in person in Arkadelphia at a Lincoln Day Dinner. 

“I’ve heard a lot of political speeches, and I think the speech that he gave that night was the most powerful,” he said. 

Ties to Virginia

The bank in Virginia is not the only connection the senator and his wife, Anna, have to the Washington, D.C., suburb of McLean, Virginia.

In at least three signed absentee ballot applications, Anna Cotton has requested that her ballot be sent to a U.S. Postal Service office in McLean, according to records obtained through the Pulaski County Circuit and County Clerk’s office.

On those application forms, the Little Rock apartment is listed as Anna Cotton’s voting residence, but she attested that she would be unavoidably absent from her polling site on those Election Days. For at least one election, the senator has requested that an absentee ballot be sent to the same U.S. Postal Service office location in McLean, according to a record obtained through the Pulaski County Circuit and County Clerk’s office.

Anna Cotton has often voted absentee in Arkansas, according to the Arkansas secretary of state’s office. 

In Arkansas, Anna Cotton has voted absentee 11 times since 2016, according to a voting history report from the secretary of state’s office. 

The last time she voted in person in Arkansas came more than eight years ago in the November 2014 general election, when her husband challenged Democrat Mark Pryor for the U.S. Senate seat, according to the report.

Attempts to reach Anna Cotton for this story were unsuccessful. Media inquiries sent to an email associated with her name were not returned.

Anna Cotton also has professional ties to McLean.

She is listed as a lawyer in at least four different states: New York, Minnesota, Wyoming and Montana. On a Minnesota lawyer database, the listed address for Anna Cotton is a U.S. Postal Service office in McLean — the same location recorded on her absentee ballot applications.

Lawyer databases from the Wyoming State Bar and the State Bar of Montana also associated Anna Cotton with McLean.

Anna Cotton is a former federal prosecutor and is the founder of SLG Solutions, according to an online biography

The listed principal office address for SLG Solutions, LLC is a U.S. Postal Service office in McLean — the same location listed on Anna Cotton’s absentee ballot applications, according to Virginia’s State Corporation Commission. 

Anna Cotton’s biography says she has worked as the deputy general counsel of the National Reconnaissance Office and worked as assistant general counsel at the Central Intelligence Agency. 

Anna Cotton is part of the board of directors at ClearForce, according to their website. ClearForce is a “people risk management company,” according to the website, and lists an address in Vienna, Virginia. 

Daniel Grear and Mary Hennigan contributed reporting.