Is the Ensign Sex Scandal More Than a Sex Scandal?

Crossposted at the Sunlight Foundation Blog.

Yesterday, Sen. John Ensign admitted to an affair with a campaign staffer who was also the wife of Ensign's administrative assistant. The couple ensnared in this torrid love triangle is Douglas Hampton, the administrative assistant, and Cynthia Hampton, an employee of Ensign's 2008 campaign and his Battle Born PAC. We know that Ensign revealed the affair because Douglas Hampton essentially blackmailed the senator. But, were the Hamptons receiving excessive pay from Ensign during the affair period? Politico looked at the official office payments to Douglas Hampton and found some numbers that look a bit... odd:

Douglas Hampton was paid about $101,000 in 2008 and $144,000 in 2007 as Ensign's administrative assistant. But a financial disclosure form he filed in 2007 and 2008 -- required for senior congressional staffers -- showed only checking and savings account worth a maximum $30,000 combined.

A review of public records shows that the Hamptons in 2006 took out a $1.2 million mortgage on their Las Vegas home, at an interest rate of 8 percent.

Now, you might immediately think that $144,000 for an administrative assistant is an absurd amount, but administrative assistant is often synonymous with chief of staff on the Hill. However, if you look to the reporting period of 4/1/2008 to 5/1/08:

Hampton was paid approximately $20,000 over this one month period. At the same time, Ensign hired a chief of staff, John Lopez, ostensibly to replace Hampton. If we are to assume that Hampton's annual salary is around $144,000 -- the cap on staffer salaries is around $160,000 -- then the $20,000 for one month ($240,000 in a year) would be far higher than his normal rate of pay. Over the four months of 2008 Hampton received $101,000, far more than his rate of pay for all of 2007.

There are a few points to be made here:

1) Staff salary reporting is often not aligned with the dates shown. If you look at Legistorm, you will see dates aligned with amounts. This is often not accurate, or includes bonuses with attribution.

2) Hampton could have collected his vacation pay, sick leave and a bonus at his termination, which would make his salary appear inflated.

3) Hampton could have stayed on to train Lopez in his new job. This would explain the overlap of two employees holding the same job.

(More: While writing this post, Politico released another report showing that the son of Douglas and Cynthia Hampton was on the payroll of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) while Ensign headed the organization. Also, this post about whether the Hampton's were pushed to extort Ensign due to a subprime mortgage on their house is worth a look too.)

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