Ensign's parents contribute to Reid

Two weeks after Democrats blasted Republican Senate candidate Sue Lowden for her "disturbing" support of embattled Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., Ensign's parents have been reported as donors to the campaign of Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., whom Lowden wants to unseat.

The political publication Roll Call first reported the contributions on Monday.

That Michael and Sharon Ensign are continuing their longtime support of Reid even as Democrats are attacking Reid's opponent for supporting their son speaks to the complicated web of relationships in the small world of Nevada politics.

Michael Ensign is a former casino executive and longtime supporter of Republican politicians, in addition to his support for Reid. Lowden and her husband, Paul Lowden, are also casino owners and have donated to Reid in the past.

"It shows you how tightly knit a lot of Nevada politics is," said Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Reno. "When it comes to the money and the intersection of gaming, you are going to end up with people giving to both sides and then trying to explain it."

Sen. Ensign is under investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee in connection with allegations he sought to cover up an extramarital affair with former employee Cindy Hampton by helping her husband, former employee Doug Hampton, make lobbying contacts in violation of the law. The senator has said he complied with the law.

His parents were dragged into the scandal after reports they paid the Hampton family $96,000 once the affair was known to friends and family but before it became public.

Earlier this month, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee pounced when Lowden said she would welcome support from Sen. Ensign in her campaign.

"Sue Lowden's support of John Ensign may have fundraising value to her, but it is a reflection of her own character and fitness for office. She has shown more fidelity to him, than he has shown to his own wife," committee spokesman Eric Schultz wrote.

And on Monday, in response to questions about Ensign's parents' support for Reid, Schultz renewed his criticism of Lowden for her ties to Sen. Ensign.

"With potential criminal charges likely against Sen. Ensign, there is one person still defending him, and that is Sue Lowden," Schultz said.

David Damore, a political science professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said the intertwined political and business interests of Reid, Lowden, Ensign and Ensign's parents are bound to bump up against each other.

"There are so few players to begin with, and eventually they are all tied to some gaming or mining interests anyway," Damore said.

The campaigns of Reid and Lowden played down the Ensign family support for Reid.

"They have been supportive of Senator Reid for a very long time," Reid campaign manager Brandon Hall said.

Robert Uithoven, a consultant to Lowden, said, "It doesn't change anything. That is their personal money, and they have a right to spend it or donate it as they wish."

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.