John Ensign agrees to $32,000 FEC penalty


John Ensign. (Cathleen Allison/AP)

This item has been updated.

Former Nevada Republican senator John Ensign has agreed to pay a $32,000 civil penalty to the Federal Election Commission to settle allegations that he took an illegal campaign contribution from his parents.

The Federal Election Commission found reason to believe that a payment made by Ensign's parents to his former mistress was a severance rather than a gift, and thus counted as an undisclosed in-kind campaign contribution that exceeded federal limits.

Ensign and his campaign do not admit to any culpability in the agreement, but say they would like to settle the matter expeditiously and avoid future litigation.

The dispute goes back to 2009, when it came out that Ensign's parents gave $96,000 the previous year to Cynthia Hampton, a staffer who was his mistress at the time. The senator insisted that the check was a gift and was correctly reported as such. He went on to resign early in 2011, in the middle of a Senate Ethics Committee investigation into his actions around the affair. That May, the committee took the unusual step of asking for a federal investigation, citing “substantial and credible evidence” that Ensign broke the law.

Chris Gober, an attorney for the former senator, responded to our request for comment with this statement: "Senator Ensign is focused on his veterinarian practice and the opening of Boca Park Animal Hospital, so this matter reached a point where it made more sense to negotiate a settlement and move on. We are appreciative of the Commission’s willingness to agree to a final resolution without further waste of resources, and we’re happy to put this matter to rest once and for all."

Rachel Weiner covers local politics for The Washington Post.
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