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Ensign Solicits Donations for Legal Defense Fund

Sen. John Ensign has begun actively raising cash for his legal expense fund, pleading for donations in an undated letter first reported Friday by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Nevada Republican received Senate approval in May to establish a legal expense fund to pay attorney fees stemming from Senate Ethics Committee and Justice Department investigations into his alleged attempts to cover up his extramarital affair.

According to a copy of the letter released by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the Nevada lawmaker requests donations up to the maximum $10,000 limit.

“As I am sure you are aware, I admitted last year to making the worst mistake of my life. In addition to causing great pain to my family, friends, and supporters, that mistake has also resulted in a difficult legal battle,” Ensign wrote. “I have taken responsibility for my actions and worked hard to become a better husband, father, friend, and senator, but I have been accused of doing things I absolutely did not do.”

The FBI and the Ethics Committee are separately investigating Ensign’s alleged efforts to cover up an affair with a campaign aide, Cynthia Hampton. She is married to Doug Hampton, who was Ensign’s top personal office aide at the time of the affair. The Hamptons no longer work for Ensign.

CREW and others have accused Ensign of using his office to steer clients to Doug Hampton’s lobbying business in exchange for his silence about the affair.

Hampton told the New York Times last fall that Ensign had taken specific steps to assist his lobbying clients and helped circumvent the lobbying ban that applied to Hampton as the Senator’s former employee.

In his letter, Ensign blamed CREW for his mounting legal bills.

“A liberal organization, CREW, has filed an ethics complaint against me, which has led to considerable legal fees,” Ensign wrote. “I have paid those fees personally up to this point. And as difficult as it is for me to ask you, I need your help to refute these charges and wage a successful legal defense.”

In a statement issued Friday, CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan dismissed Ensign’s characterization of the organization and called for Ensign to leave office.

“The case against Senator Ensign has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a Republican, and everything to do with the fact that he’s corrupt,” Sloan said. “Much like CREW has called for Congressman Charles Rangel to step down it’s time for Senator Ensign to look in the mirror, stop blaming other people, finally take responsibly for his actions, and resign.”

As Roll Call reported last week, Ensign also recently registered his legal expense fund as a 527 political organization, according to documents filed with the IRS.

Senators are allowed to establish legal defense funds with the approval of the Ethics Committee to pay for civil or criminal proceedings relating to their official duties.
Contributions to such funds are capped at $10,000 per year for an individual and do not count against contribution limits for campaigns, but lobbyists are prohibited from donating.

Although 527 organizations — tax-exempt organizations, named for a section of the tax code that can raise unlimited funds for issue advocacy and political activities — do not face similar limits, the legal fund’s restrictions still apply.

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