Washington, D.C. – Today, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint against Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) with the Senate Select Committee on Ethics and a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) against his campaign committee and leadership PAC, based on activities surrounding his affair with a campaign staffer, Cynthia Hampton.
On June 16, 2009, Sen. Ensign announced he had engaged in an affair with Ms. Hampton, who was married to Doug Hampton, the Senator’s administrative assistant. The affair began in December 2007 and ended in August 2008.
The complaint details a number of Senate ethics rules and legal violations.
First, Mr. Hampton has alleged Sen. Ensign terminated him and his wife for reasons related to the affair. If true, the senator likely engaged in discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII, and Senate Rule 42, which incorporates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to Senate employees and prohibits discrimination based on sex. At least two members of Congress previously have been investigated for sexual harassment, including former Sen. Bob Packwood (R-OR) and former Rep. Jim Bates (D-CA).
Second, Ms. Hampton apparently received a severance payment directly from Sen. Ensign when she was terminated from the campaign committee and PAC, but neither committee reported any in-kind contribution by the senator. In addition, if Sen. Ensign paid Ms. Hampton more than $5,000 he may have made an illegal excessive contribution to the PAC. Knowingly failing to report a contribution of over $25,000 is a violation of criminal law.
Mr. Hampton apparently was paid $6,000 upon his departure, purportedly for vacation time. If this actually was some sort of severance payment, Sen. Ensign’s office may have misused official funds.
CREW has alleged Sen. Ensign violated the rules prohibiting improper conduct that reflects upon the Senate by abusing his authority as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) to hire and pay the Hampton’s son as an intern at the NRSC and by claiming to have been blackmailed by Mr. Hampton, without reporting the alleged crime to law enforcement authorities.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, said today, “Sen. Ensign’s stunning abuse of power shocks the conscience. Sen. Ensign has replaced Sens. David Vitter (R-LA) and Larry Craig (R-ID) as the latest poster senator for bad judgment and hypocrisy.” Sloan continued, “Of course, if bad judgment and hypocrisy alone violated Senate rules, the Ethics Committee would be unable to keep up with its workload. Here, though, the Committee has plenty of more serious violations to consider.”
“Notably, Sen. Ensign has held up legislation requiring senators to post campaign finance data online by offering an amendment that would force any organization that files an ethics complaint, such as CREW, to disclose its donors.” Sloan said, “It looks like that amendment may have been more about self-preservation than policy. The ploy failed and now the Ethics Committee should have Sen. Ensign squarely in its sights.”
Read CREW’s complaints to the Senate Ethics Committee and the Federal Election Commission in the Related Documents section on the right.