Ensign campaign reports raising $50 in first quarter

WASHINGTON — Scandal-ridden Sen. John Ensign received only $50 from a single donor during the first three months of this year as the fallout from his extramarital affair continued to take a striking toll.

Robert Donald, a Las Vegas retiree, cut two $25 checks to Ensign on March 19, according to the latest campaign reports filed with the Senate.

“I think he is a great senator,” Donald said. “He is no different from any other man in my view. He screwed up maybe in his personal life, but as far as someone I want representing me for my views in the Senate, he’s fine. That’s why I like him and that’s why I sent him money. Is that bad? Did I do something wrong?”

The campaign finance report covering January through March was evidence that Ensign’s political prospects continue to fall in the wake of his admitted affair, and the ethics and criminal investigations it has spawned.

The once rising Republican star has raised less than $35,000 in political contributions since July, shortly after he admitted he had an extramarital relationship with Cindy Hampton, a former campaign aide who was a friend of Ensign’s wife.

Under normal circumstances, a senator can raise that amount in an afternoon making phone calls.

Ensign’s personal political action committee, the Battle Born PAC, also has gone into a fundraising freeze. It raised no money during the first three months of this year.

Reports also show Ensign paid $14,321 from his PAC and his campaign fund during the first quarter in legal fees to Fish & Richardson, a Boston law firm handling his defense in the investigations, after paying the firm $18,600 last year.

“He is under a cloud and people are reluctant to go out of their way to support someone financially if they don’t feel their investment is going to be worthwhile,” said David Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics.

“If he is able to emerge from the political wilderness, then perhaps his financial fortunes are going to turn, but clearly nobody is going out on a limb,” Levinthal said.

Ensign’s last known fundraiser was June 26, a $5,000-per-person golf outing at Bandon Dunes Golf Course, a seaside resort in Oregon, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group that tracks political events.

Ensign did not comment on the paltry fundraising Wednesday. Spokeswoman Jennifer Cooper said he “has taken a break from fundraising but is looking to restart these efforts this year.”

Ensign has $980,498 left in his campaign bank account.

The money drought renews questions about his political future, particularly if authorities prolong ethics and criminal investigations into his actions after the affair.

Authorities with the Senate Ethics Committee and the Justice Department have not confirmed the scope of their parallel investigations, but reports have suggested they are checking into several allegations.

Among them is whether Ensign helped Doug Hampton, his mistress’ husband, obtain work as a lobbyist in violation of a one-year cooling-off period, and whether Ensign put an arm on Nevada companies to hire Hampton or make campaign contributions in exchange for help from his office.

Ensign is up for re-election in 2012 and has said he plans to run for another six-year term. But a dwindling campaign fund could encourage possible opponents.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who has signaled interest in running for the Senate in 2012, had $1.6 million in her campaign account as of March 31 in preparation for a House race that favors her for re-election.

Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., another lawmaker who is said to be looking at the Senate, had $497,390 on hand. He also is favored for re-election to the House this year before he could turn his attention to a 2012 campaign.

Contacted Wednesday, Robert Donald, 75, was surprised to learn he was the only person in the United States who had donated to Ensign since the beginning of the year. He also gave Ensign at least $400 last year.

Donald was a police lieutenant in Newark, N.J., before retiring to Nevada. He said he had volunteered for Ensign in the past “and shook his hand a couple of times,” but otherwise does not know him personally.

“I’m half-Italian and half-Scot,” Donald said. “I grew up in an all-Italian neighborhood. Loyalty was one of our biggest assets when I was young and up to now.

“I just can’t see people who will be there when you are fat and happy and everything is going good, and as soon as a little something goes wrong, they stab you in the back and run. I am not that type of person.”

Besides, Donald said, “I think all men are dogs. We are out there sniffing here and sniffing there. And if something shows up, your testosterone goes right to work. That’s what I believe.”

Donald said of Ensign: “I know he’s over that. I know he’s repented, and I know he is sorry for what he did, and I am pretty sure he will still make a good senator.”

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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