Ensign under scrutiny on fundraising efforts | NevadaAppeal.com

Ensign under scrutiny on fundraising efforts

Associated Press Writers
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee member Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., listens to testimony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009, during the committee's hearing on an assessment of the Fort Hood deaths. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke)

LAS VEGAS – Senate Ethics Committee investigators have been in Nevada in recent days interviewing businessmen about Republican Sen. John Ensign’s efforts to seek their political contributions while urging them to hire particular lobbyists.

The senator’s legal problems – he also is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department’s public integrity section – revolve around whether Ensign helped a former aide, Doug Hampton, violate a one-year lobbying ban. Hampton left Ensign’s staff after Ensign had an affair with his wife, Cynthia. Ensign helped Hampton land work with the lobbying firm.

In the last two months, it has become clear that investigators in both the criminal and ethics probes are also delving into Ensign’s role in trying to raise money during a period in 2008 when he ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

On Friday, Las Vegas lawyer George Kelesis described to The Associated Press the Senate Ethics Committee’s interest in fundraising requests received by his client, Derek LaFavor, founder of a Nevada company called The Selling Source LLC.

KLAS-TV in Las Vegas first reported that Senate Ethics Committee investigators questioned executives from Nevada companies in recent days.

Kelesis said he and LaFavor met with two ethics committee investigators Monday in a hotel room off the Las Vegas Strip.

During the meeting, the Senate investigators inquired about LaFavor being asked in February, March and April 2008 by Ensign, Doug Hampton, and other Ensign staff members to contribute to Ensign’s campaign.

“They asked him to recall how things occurred and what was said,” Kelesis said of the Senate investigators’ questions to LaFavor.

Kelesis said that Ensign, Hampton and the senator’s staffers “were soliciting political contributions. With contributions, there were things said about hiring certain lobbying firms.”

Kelesis said the Senate investigators asked specifically about political consulting firm November Inc., and about a request that LaFavor contribute $28,500 to Majority Makers, a National Republican Senatorial Committee program.

Hampton ended up working for November Inc., which belonged to Michael Slanker, who was the political director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the time Ensign was in charge of the NRSC. Slanker’s wife, Lindsey, was installed as the committee’s finance director.

At an initial meeting with LaFavor in early 2008, “Senator Ensign suggested that he contribute to Majority Makers, where he could participate in the political process and meet the president and others,” Kelesis told the AP.

Kelesis said his client did not make any contributions.

“Senator Ensign is confident he has complied with all ethics rules and laws and will cooperate with any official inquiries,” Ensign’s office said Friday in an e-mailed statement.

The Senate Ethics Committee did not immediately respond Friday to messages seeking comment.

In March, a federal grand jury in the Justice Department’s criminal probe issued a subpoena to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

According to another grand jury subpoena in March obtained by KLAS-TV, a recipient was ordered to produce documents relating to, among others, Ensign and both Michael and Lindsey Slanker.

On Friday, Nevada Republican strategist Sig Rogich told the AP he met voluntarily with the Senate ethics investigators for about 25 minutes on Tuesday. He said questions focused on a single brief meeting he had with Doug Hampton at Ensign’s request.

“I told them I had one 10-minute meeting with Mr. Hampton, that I had not met him before, nor seen him since,” Rogich said. Rogich said he did not offer Hampton a job.

In March, Rogich was one of several Las Vegas business owners who said they provided material under subpoena to a federal grand jury investigating the Hampton affair.


Yost reported from Washington.