The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

6 cases where the Ashley Madison leak has ensnared political and public officials

(Chris Wattie/Reuters)

Something about Ashley Madison — the affair-seeker's Web site — appeals to some people. Perhaps it's those satellite radio ads implying that open marriage is not so unusual. Perhaps it's the $250 affair guarantee. Almost certainly, its the possibility of an affair.

Whatever it is, those aforementioned people do apparently (and probably not surprisingly) include public figures from the world of politics. And in the month since hackers attempted to extort the Toronto-based site, then released the names, fantasies, e-mail addresses and other identifying details of the site's more than 35 million users, the political and personal price of the Ashley Madison hack has been steep. Data analysts have said that at least 15,000 government e-mail accounts have been identified.

This is what we know so far. Please be forewarned; if you follow the links, some explicit details will be included.

A Duggar went further downhill

In May, Josh Duggar, the married eldest child of the fecund and religious reality-TV Duggar brood, resigned his job as the executive director of FRC Action, the lobbying arm of the conservative, family-values-promoting Family Research Council.

Duggar admitted at that time to molesting several girls while himself a teenager, including four of his sisters. And when his name and other identifying information was found among the hacked Ashley Madison data last week, Duggar issued a series of statements admitting to deep hypocrisy.

[Duggar: 'I have been the biggest hypocrite ever']

A prosecutor faces some glaring spotlights

The East Orlando Post reported late last week that Florida state prosecutor Jeff Ashton's name and other identifying information had been found amid the leaked Ashley Madison data. Ashton is perhaps best known for his role in  prosecuting Casey Anthony, a woman ultimately acquitted of killing her missing 2-year-old daughter.

Before the Ashley Madison revelation, Ashton tried to project "a saintly aura – packaging himself as the white knight of Central Florida, stomping out any 'bad guy' who crossed him," according to the paper.

Late last week, Ashton told reporters that he had been curious about the site but did not use his work address or a government computer to visit it. Instead, he used a personal laptop and a courthouse wireless network that can also be accessed by any member of the public. Ashton also told reporters he ultimately never had an affair and apologized to his wife and children during an emotional news conference.

Ashton has said that he will not resign. However, an Orlando-area police union has called for an outside investigation, citing Ashton's decision to "hold police officers to a higher standard" and charge "several" with crimes.

[Casey Anthoney prosecutor: No crime committed on Ashley Madison]

I was just there for the research

In Louisiana, Jason Doré, executive director of that state's Republican Party, told reporters that his name and other information appeared amidst the Ashley Madison hacked data because his law firm provides opposition research.

Opposition research — a nice name for the work of digging into the backgrounds and often the after-hours activities of candidates vying for office — is certainly a real and frequent activity in political circles. Sometimes candidates try to find out what others can find out about them and how long it might take to find it. Other times, campaigns hire someone to dig into the lives of their opponents.

So while Dore's explanation is plausible, it probably won't make it terribly easy for the state party to raise culture-war-related issues in the near future. That's a tough spot for a political organization that just last year called on former representative Vance McAllister, a Republican, to resign his seat last year after he was caught on camera kissing a married staffer. Oh, and the party's front-runner for governor this year is Sen. David Vitter, whose marital foibles are well-documented.

[Rep. Vance McAllister kissed. Now can he make up for it with voters after the scandal?]

It was me, but I'm single!

A city councilman in Queensland, Australia, was caught up in the leak, and he doesn't deny being involved. There's one catch, though: Craig Ogilvie wasn't seeking an affair, because he says he's not married.

The question that follows, of course, is why a single man decided he needed to use Ashley Madison's secretive service, especially when there are so many other dating Web sites out there.

That aside, though, he could still be in trouble. That's because he's not sure whether he used a city council-issued computer or e-mail address to access the site. Either could be problematic.

[Queensland politician admits being linked to Ashley Madison scandal after work email published in hack]

Joking it away

In Baton Rouge, La., City Councilman Ryan Heck admitted that he visited the Ashley Madsion Web site "as a joke" five years ago but has not since returned. Heck admitted to logging on and sharing his e-mail address with the site but never paying for or making use of its services.

Heck's ultimate defense, posted on Twitter, was certainly a gem: "#smokinghotwife."

Heck, a Republican, is also running for a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives. So it's not yet clear if there will be any political fallout here but we'll find out. We do know that he is creative, though. A Tweet with clip art!

A turn for the very sad

Finally, it seems that the repercussions of the hack have become truly grave.

In Texas, long-time San Antonio police Capt. Michael Gorhum killed himself days after his name and work e-mail address were found amid the leaked Ashley Madison data, the International Business Times reported. The San Antonio Police Department confirmed Gorhum's death and described him as the head of the San Antonio Regional Intelligence Center (SARIC) Unit.

The department did not directly link Gorhum's death to the revelation. The local newspaper, the San Antonio Express News, published a brief story indicating that at least three e-mail addresses associated with city workers, including two inside the police department, had been identified amid the hacked data. It did not name Gorhum.

The sorted stories, shameful apologies and certainly the untimely deaths here highlight precisely what computer-security experts warned when data from the affair-seekers' Web site was exposed. People —  particularly public figures who face the possible wrath of their spouses, constituents or fans and the potential loss of their reputations, careers and livelihoods — might react in extreme ways.

And we're sure there are a plenty of them who are sweating this out right now.