Ensign's chief of staff leaving

U.S. Sen. John Ensign, the Nevada Republican who has been embroiled in scandal in recent weeks, is losing his top staffer, his office confirmed Wednesday.

It wasn't clear whether Ensign's chief of staff, John Lopez, was quitting or being fired.

Ensign spokesman Tory Mazzola declined to comment on the departure, saying, "When we have information to announce regarding personnel, we'll announce it."

Lopez, who grew up in Reno and attended the University of Nevada, Reno, had worked for Ensign since his 1994 election to the House of Representatives. Well-liked and loyal, he was known for policy expertise more than political acumen.

Formerly the deputy chief of staff, Lopez was promoted upon the departure of then-chief Scott Bensing in January 2007, according to congressional personnel records. But at the same time, Lopez was forced to share top billing with the Ensign friend whose name would come to be known in connection with the recent sex scandal: Doug Hampton.

Hampton was hired in the Senate office in November 2006 with the title "administrative assistant," according to records, but sources inside the office say he had the status of co-chief of staff, responsible for managing the office and its personnel while Lopez oversaw Senate business.

Lopez chafed at the slight, the sources said.

Ensign revealed last month that he had a nine-month affair ending in August 2008 with Hampton's wife, Cindy, herself a former Ensign campaign bookkeeper. Doug and Cindy Hampton both had left Ensign's payroll by May 2008. Doug Hampton alleges they were dismissed because of the affair.

Ensign's campaign also is being asked to explain problems with the senator's campaign finance reporting. The Federal Election Commission sent a letter to Ensign's Senate campaign on July 9 seeking additional information about five donations from two individuals that exceeded the federal donation limits.

Nathan Perlmutter and Ronald Rosbruch, both New York insurance executives, each contributed more than $4,000 to Ensign's 2012 primary campaign. The limit for an individual contribution is $2,400 per election.

Perlmutter's two donations, totaling $4,300, were made in May 2008 and January 2009. Rosbruch's three contributions, totaling $4,302, were made in December 2008 and January 2009.

In addition, the campaign failed to properly add up the totals of multiple contributions from eight individual contributors, the FEC letter states.

The campaign must respond to the FEC by Aug. 13, according to the letter.

"It appears to be a routine request for additional information, which the campaign will provide promptly," Mazzola said.

Mazzola said both problems were reporting errors attributable to a software glitch and the campaign would file corrected reports with the FEC.

Contact reporter Molly Ball at mball @reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2919.