Ensign's parents give cash to Democrat Reid

Health Care Overhaul
Senate Finance Committee member Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2009, during the committee's hearing regarding health care reform. Charles Dharapak / AP
/ Source: CQ Politics

The parents of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., pitched in to help Democrat Harry Reid, the state's senior senator, in his 2010 re-election battle.

Mike and Sharon Ensign, who made waves in July after admitting to giving $96,000 to Ensign's mistress and her family, each gave the maximum $4,800 in contributions to Reid's campaign committee in the September, the Senate Majority Leader's campaign disclosed in its third quarter fundraising report.

Despite being on opposite sides of the partisan divide, Reid and Ensign have an unofficial non-aggression pact, and Reid has remained silent on his colleague's admission over the summer that he had carried on an affair with Cynthia Hampton, a staffer and wife of one of his top aides, Doug Hampton.

Watchdog groups have requested investigations into the payments, which the Ensigns' lawyer characterized as gifts, as well as accusations leveled by Doug Hampton that Ensign helped him obtain lobbying clients after Hampton learned about the affair, and then helped push those clients' interests.

Earlier this month, Senate Ethics Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., acknowledged that her panel has opened an investigation into whether Ensign broke the chamber's rules.

Michael Ensign is a former casino executive with Mandalay Resort Group, and he and his wife have been major Republican donors throughout the years. Federal contribution records show that they also gave $10,000 each to the state Democratic Party in 2008, and gave to Democratic 1st District Rep. Shelly Berkley during her 2006 re-election campaign.

The September donations are not the Ensign's first to Reid, who has been a friend to gaming interests during his time in the Senate. They also gave $4,000 each to the Democrat for his 2004 election, which he won comfortably.

Reid has a big target on his back in 2010, however, thanks to his growing unpopularity in the state. A number of Republicans are in the running for their party's nomination. To fend off what is likely to be a tough challenge, Reid has already amassed an $8.7 million war chest, and last week launched his first television advertisements of the campaign.