Ensign comes to the defense of ‘The Family’

Allegations surrounding a secretive group of Christian power brokers prompted a war of words between Sen. John Ensign and an author who has written about it.

Ensign last week defended “The Family” following reports that a group affiliate, the Fellowship Foundation, took money from the Islamic American Relief Agency, an organization the U.S. government called a financier of global terrorism in 2004.

In so doing, Ensign also criticized Jeff Sharlet, an author and journalist who has written about the group, and who has been critical of Ensign’s admitted extramarital affair during the time the Nevadan lived in the group’s Washington boardinghouse.

“I know one of the people who has written a lot of these things, and most of the stuff he says is untrue,” Ensign said.

Sharlet said Ensign should put up or shut up.

“Bring your evidence,” Sharlet said. “My books are footnoted. I’ve spent time with Family leaders. They’ve never presented a real serious factual challenge.”

Ensign and other politicians have traveled on the Family’s dime to meet, pray and discuss global conflicts with foreign dignitaries.

Sharlet says the trips threaten to undermine American foreign policy, and the group’s refusal to take accountability for its affiliate’s funding source shows “arrogance of power.”

“It is endangering our relationships with Muslim nations, which are already tense,” Sharlet said. “That endangers us, too.

“They are just so certain they are doing God’s work,” Sharlet said of the group, adding meetings between members of Congress and foreign officials smacks of freelance diplomacy and reinforces Muslim suspicion that America favors religious imperialism.

In 2004, Ensign traveled to Japan at the expense of the International Foundation, another Family affiliate, to attend an event aimed at bringing together Jewish and Arab members of Israel’s Knesset.

At the time, the senator said he knew little about the group, which also paid his way to Hong Kong. Sharlet says the International Foundation is an assumed business name of the Fellowship Foundation.

Revelations about the Family affiliates’ financial ties to the Islamic Relief Agency recently prompted an Ohio-based faith group to say the Family should lose its IRS tax-exempt status.

The Family acknowledges it took the money and has pledged to strengthen donor scrutiny, but when asked last Monday if the Islamic Relief Agency connection concerned him, Ensign instead slammed Sharlet.

“I don’t know anything about where they get their money from,” Ensign said. “I know some of the people associated with it, and they are some of the finest people I ever met. I’d defend them no matter what.”

Sharlet said Ensign lacks credibility, having declined interviews on the subject.

“He has resisted transparency at every turn,” Sharlet said. “He is just in no position to make this defense.”

— Benjamin Spillman

President Barack Obama weighed in last Tuesday on the provocative TV ad urging Hispanics not to vote on Election Day, calling it a “cynical political ploy.”

Obama made his comment during a White House roundtable with nine journalists from Spanish language publications and news agencies. Among them was Hernando Amaya, editor of El Tiempo in Las Vegas.

Amaya figured he was invited by the White House because El Tiempo, a 50,000-circulation sister publication to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, reaches an audience that could be key to Democrat Sen. Harry Reid’s re-election.

“Las Vegas is not a big city, but at this moment, it is very important because Nevada is one of the key states in this election,” Amaya said.

Amaya said he prepared questions for Obama on health care reform, Social Security and Nevada’s unemployment and foreclosure crises, all of which the president touched on during the 45-minute interview.

When it came Amaya’s turn to question Obama, he asked whether the president believed Reid was at risk for defeat and about the “don’t vote” commercial. Obama’s critical remarks added to the outcry by Hispanic leaders and Democrats that prompted Univision to reject the ad.

— Steve Tetreault

The ad that Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman cut with gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid was largely improvised while the cameras were rolling, Goodman said last week.

“It was not the ad that was given me to do. The ad that they gave me was one of those, ‘mmmzzzz, mmmzzzz,’ ” Goodman said while imitating a sleepy zombie struggling to fight off epic boredom.

“I can’t do anything without a drink in my hand and a showgirl by my side,” he said. “There was a lot of improvisation.”

The spot plays off the “I’m a Mac” advertisements, with Goodman declaring that he’s “definitely not PC.” He meant “politically correct,” although the mayor does own an iPad, even though he insists he does not know how to use it.

Goodman raises a large martini while endorsing Reid, and his showgirls are shown backstage reading Reid’s position papers.

In this election season, the ad is notable in that it doesn’t label anyone as soft on sex offenders. Goodman does, however, refer to Reid as “sexy.”

— Alan Choate

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at
bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861; Steve Tetreault at
stetreault@stephensmedia.com or
202-783-176; and Alan Choate at
achoate@reviewjournal.com or 229-6435.

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