NASHVILLE -- Eight days after U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., admitted having had an extramarital affair with a former aide, he contributed $5,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., records show.
When in Washington, D.C., the two live in the same building, a Capitol Hill Christian fellowship center that has come under national scrutiny lately.
Sen. Ensign's political action committee, Battle Born PAC, contributed the money on June 24, according to Federal Election Commission records. Rep. Wamp's campaign received the contribution on June 29, his Tennessee Registry of Election Finance disclosure shows.
Wamp spokesman John Crisp declined a request to discuss the Ensign contribution, but he noted in an e-mail statement that "we're pleased that 25 or more of Zach's House and Senate colleagues or their committees have already contributed to Zach's campaign for governor.
"This is important because these elected leaders see every day how hard Zach works, and they know what an outstanding job Zach will do as governor for all of Tennessee," Mr. Crisp said.
U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp
Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons
Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville
Joe Kirkpatrick, businessman
Paula Flowers, former state Commerce and Insurance commissioner
Brent Benedict, Chattanooga systems analyst
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester questioned the Ensign contribution.
"It would seem to me that, if you were running for governor, and you were running on a set of moral values that Zach Wamp seems to talk about a lot, you'd be sort of reluctant to receive financial support from an admitted adulterer."
Rep. Wamp also reported receiving a $1,000 contribution on June 25 from Mint Political Action Committee, a leadership PAC affiliated with U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who, according to numerous news accounts, also lives at the C Street Center in Washington, where both Sen. Ensign and Rep. Wamp live when in the nation's capitol.
The Ensign and DeMint contributions were among an estimated $32,600 in contributions made to the Wamp campaign by 22 federal lawmakers or committees associated with them, according to an examination of the Wamp gubernatorial campaign's midyear filing with the state.
Housed in a former convent at 133 C St. SE, the center is owned and maintained by a group affiliated with the Fellowship Foundation, a secretive conservative Christian organization which for decades has organized the annual National Prayer Breakfast.
The C Street Center and the Fellowship have received extensive national publicity in the wake of the Ensign matter as well as its connections to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford. A Republican who acknowledged that he cheated on his wife, Gov. Sanford went the center in the past for counseling.
Most recently, the estranged wife of former U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., charged that Rep. Pickering engaged in an extramarital affair while living at the "well-known C Street Complex."
Regarding the Fellowship Foundation, Mr. Forrester said "one of the tenets of the group, as I understand it, is that these people are chosen by God to lead and are sort of forgiven of their sins because they're leaders. I don't want to cast aspersions, but it would be nice if Congressman Wamp would be more forthcoming about exactly what goes on behind closed doors."
In a July 11 Times Free Press interview, possibly the last time he has spoken publicly about the C Street center, Rep. Wamp described it as a "place that people can go off the Hill and in a bipartisan way and get along and hold each other accountable. But there's nothing really to talk about except that's what we chose to do. But it's not (secretive). It's where people live and you go there to fellowship and we happen to have the common denominator of our faith."
Rep. Wamp said he told Sen. Ensign that "I'd pray for him and hope that he can build his life over time. But that's what it takes is a long period of time, and a really good wife that still loves him. And he can put it back together. That's the most important thing."
The congressman called elective office "far less important, because someone else can do that. But nobody else can restore his relationship with his wife and his kids."