A watchdog group alleged Wednesday that Sen. John Ensign violated the Senate's ethics rules by engaging in an affair with a campaign aide who was married to his administrative assistant, then terminating their employment.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington also said Ensign, R-Nev., violated ethics and campaign finance rules by failing to report a severance payment to the woman as an in-kind contribution from his campaign or leadership political action committee.
Ensign acknowledged last week that he had a consensual affair with a campaign staffer from December 2007 through August 2008. The group followed through Wednesday on an earlier announcement that it would be filing a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee.
While Ensign stressed the word consensual in his disclosure, Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group, said the ethics committee needs to investigate whether sexual harassment had occurred. She said it's well established that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that Senate rules don't allow.
Sloan also said that payments to the couple involved, Doug and Cynthia Hampton, merited investigation.
"Given that Sen. Ensign appears to have personally paid Ms. Hampton some amount of severance, that payment constitutes an in-kind contribution to either his campaign committee or PAC, or perhaps both," Sloan said in the complaint.
Citing similar allegations to the Federal Election Commission, Sloan also asked the FEC to conduct an investigation.
Ensign returned to work in Washington this week after staying in Nevada following his announcement of the affair. His spokesman, Tory Mazzola, referred questions Wednesday to the ethics committee.
Natalie Ravitz, an Ethics Committee spokeswoman, said that whenever the committee gets a complaint, "we take a look at it. But beyond that, I'm going to have to decline comment."
The committee has no formal time limit for its inquiries.
Source: AP News