Opinion: Did ex-Ensign aide break law by contacting old boss?


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Thus far, the fallout from Sen. John Ensign’s extramarital affair – and the admission that his parents paid his mistress and her family $96,000 after she left his employ – has mostly been in the court of public opinion, as The Ticket has reported.

Could a newspaper story today have far more serious consequences?

Let’s recap: Doug Hampton and his wife, Cynthia, both worked for Ensign, Doug as a high-ranking aide in his Senate office. In spring 2008, the couple said they were pushed out of their jobs because of Ensign’s affair with Cynthia.
Ensign (see photo) made some calls to his Nevada buddies to find Doug consulting work. Two major campaign donors, NV Energy and Allegiant Air, contracted with Doug Hampton. He then made a number of calls and e-mails on their behalf, including to Ensign’s then chief of staff, John Lopez.


Outside the Beltway, that might seem innocuous. But according to a N.Y. Times story, these were potentially criminal acts. The paper wrote:

Senate ethics rules and federal criminal law prohibit former aides, if they have ‘the intent to influence,’ from making ‘any communication to or appearance’ with any senator or Senate staff member for a year after leaving their jobs. A separate law required Mr. Hampton to register as a lobbyist if he intended to press a company’s case on Capitol Hill.

Hampton said he ignored the one-year lobbying ban on Ensign’s advice, while Lopez said their conversations were merely informational. Probably not the last time this distinction is debated.

Other tidbits in case you care about how the infidelity began and ended:
• Ensign realized he had feelings for Cynthia Hampton when they attended a White House Christmas party together in 2006, Doug Hampton said. There, they posed for a picture with President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura.

• The $96,000 from Ensign’s wealthy parents was intended as severance, Cynthia Hampton said, though Ensign’s attorney has described the payments as gifts.

• Fellow Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma was a middleman when husband Doug Hampton sought financial compensation from Ensign for his wife’s indiscretion. Coburn told Hampton that $8 million was too much, but passed on a lower figure to his Senate colleague: $2 million. Ensign severed the negotiations.

• Allegiant Air, which eventually hired Hampton, let him go after the scandal broke. Both Hamptons are unemployed and planning to sell their home in Las Vegas -- which, long ago, the Ensigns had encouraged them to buy. Good luck in this Vegas housing market.

-- Ashley Powers

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