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July 10, 2009

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Let me get this straight: Paul Coggins is Senator Ensign's lawyer? And he's making statements about the "gift" from Ensign's parents to the Hampton family? Tangled web indeed.

Next we'll be hearing that Coggins is on retainer from "The Family" or "The Fellowship" or whatever that cabal of god-botherers on C Street calls itself, and has a statement from Senator Doctor Deacon Coburn to release as well. Next year's "National Prayer Breakfast" is going to be fun!

--TP

I guess we misunderstood him whenever he talked about family values; it was all monetary instead of morality. In this family's case, their value was $96,000.

Under federal tax regulations, $12,000 is the most that a person can receive as a gift from any one person without having to declare or pay taxes on it.

This is wrong. From the IRS:


"Who pays the gift tax?
The donor is generally responsible for paying the gift tax. Under special arrangements the donee may agree to pay the tax instead. Please visit with your tax professional if you are considering this type of arrangement."

Ensign's parents were looking out for their own tax liability.

It looks like this is the NYT's error, not a quote from the lawyer. It is a common mistake, but it annoys me that news articles recite that recipients pay as if it were gospel.

It's also wrong in using the present tense about the amount, the donor was limited to $12,000 or 24,000 for a married couple in 2008, when the gift was given. It is currently $13,000 or 26,000 for married couple in 2009. See the IRS link above.

I think there are less than a dozen people in the world to whom this could be of legitimate concern. AFAIK, you, Hilzoy, are not among those people.

On the other hand, if the $96,000 was all one big gift, then I don't have to feel so bad for the one Hampton child who mysteriously got no gift at all. (There are three. I believe the oldest is 19.) If the gifts were genuine, it might be hard to explain to that third child why his or her siblings just got $24,000 from Mommy's lover's parents while s/he got nothing at all, not to mention why Mommy's lover's parents suddenly started feeling so generous.

And this faux-concern for the feelings of other people's children? Is really, really sickening.

Jesurgislac:

I'm pretty sure that paragraph was pure snark.

I have mixed feelings about all this - I'd like it if we could treat politicians' sexual liaisons as being none of our gol-darned business, however much I disagree with those politicians or however much I dislike them personally (and I can't say I recall ever hearing of Ensign; he doesn't seem to make much national news). And payoffs from the philandering politician's own pocket to the former mistress, however sordid and unethical, are similarly a fairly private matter in my mind - possibly illegal, especially the implied blackmail of it, but basically none of my affair.

Now, rank hypocrisy might make it a more publically relevant affair, and I assume Ensign's talked a lot of guff about the sanctity of heterosexual marriage. But I'm not really sure about the importance of this hypocrisy angle - am I just seizing on it because it's so delicious, and it lets me air the dirty laundry of politicians that I despise? After all, in the world that I'd like to live in the private affairs of a politician would be between them and the people they betrayed, and not something I'd like to stick my nose in. And viewed that way, the hypocrisy may really be their business, not mine.

Other aspects of the affairs that relate to public responsibilities and to peculation - such as Sanford's using state funds to visit Buenos Aires and abandoning his duties for a week without notice, or Ensign's using the influence of his office to find employment for his mistress and her family - those are clearly deserving of public scrutiny. But this latest story isn't such a case. Similarly, given that his mistress worked for Ensign it's possible that there's a power-imbalance issue, a sexual harassment problem - but again, the $100K from Daddy and Mommy isn't relevant.

Although the details here are juicy, and the structuring of the hush money is sleazy and the sourcing of it from Ensign's parents is ludicrous, where is the public interest in this aspect of the story? Sure, it makes Ensign look pathetic - but what does this payoff have to do with how honestly he pursued his public duties? I'm not sure we should be focusing on this part of this story.

epistat: I'm pretty sure that paragraph was pure snark.

Yeah. Pure snark, about real people, of whom the oldest (as Hilzoy notes) is 19. Nice.

Jes, as I read it the snark was aimed at the absurdity of the fiction that the money was intended for the children, rather than aimed at the children allegedly being given a gift. I believe that Hilzoy used the snark to point out that, according to Ensign's lawyer, for some reason two children were deemed worthy of a $24,000 gift but another worthy of nothing, and that this is an obvious nonsense. I don't think this whole post was a good idea in other ways, as I tried to say above, but I think you're grievously misreading the post and that paragraph if you think that Hilzoy meant in any way to delve into the lives of the Hamptons' children.

Whether Hilzoy "meant to" or not, in that paragraph she did delve into the lives of the Hamptons children: and in my view, even less justifiably than the rest of this post. No law is being broken; no public funds are being used: the rest is nobody's damn business - and that applies even more strongly to the minor children whose parents are involved, not they.

No law is being broken; no public funds are being used: the rest is nobody's damn business

Jes, a US senator has paid nearly $100,000 in hush money, disguising the transaction in a particular ridiculous way. The transaction arguably was handled in a way that vioaltes the tax laws. The hush money was for an adulterous affair with an employee; the employee and her husband were later forced out of their jobs--something that is also arguably illegal. And of course, the adulterous affairs of senators who presume to lecture the rest of us on sexual morality are fair game.

If the Ensign incident was an isolated event--just one moralizing hypocrite--then the story would probably be of no interest outside of Neveda. Neveda Democrats could justifiably argue that he is not who he claims to be and use his hypocrisy against him in the next election with a big Who cares? from everyone else.

But the Republican party set themsleves up to have the hypocrisy of all of their politicians exposed when they decided to sell themselves as the morally superior party. And they did that, systematically, repeatedly, and consciously. Claims of moral superiority has been one of the party's major themes for over a decade, dating back to the Reagan Revolution and even more obviously the wave of Republican wins in the nineties. Remember back when the Republicans in Congress, under the claim that character counts, made Clinton's private business public? For election after election the sales pitch for Republican candidates has been that they are the family values party, the prolife party, the party of moral values.

All bullshit.

Bullshit on two levels. First the hypocrisy: Talking Points Memo had a list of Republican politicians that violated their own stated qualifications for office and the list was long, long, long. Just off the top of my head here's a few for the Hypocrite Hall of Dishonor: Ginrich, ,Sanford, that pedofile guy from Florida who harassed pages, the New York Congressman that Eric Massa defeated (he fired a shotgun at his wife), Villers, and Craig.

That's just off the top of my head at four in the morning. Its a pattern. It's probably related to the pattern of claiming to be more patriotic than thou combined with glorification of military service as the ultimate expression of patriotism from politicians who did everything thing they could to stay out of the services themselves.

The issue isn't that more Repubican politicians cheat on their families or dodge military service than Democratic politicians. The issue is that Republicans as a political strategy run for office on moralistic and psuedo patriotic slogans while not actually being any more moral or patriotic than Democrats. When elections turn on one candidte selling himself as being of superior character while the other candidate talks about the economy or the war or the environment, and the "character" candidate wins, then, by god, the so-called character candidate needs to be held accountable.

It's also bullshit because all of the blather about family values and prolife and we're-better-Americans-than-you substitutes for debate on the issues and policy proposals.

So have at it, hilzoy.

BTW, I dont think that hilzoy dragged the kids into the post. She just pointed out that it is an obvious lie that the gifts were for the kids. That point cant be made without referencing the existance of the kids.

wonkie: I dont think that hilzoy dragged the kids into the post. She just pointed out that it is an obvious lie that the gifts were for the kids. That point cant be made without referencing the existance of the kids.

But who the hell cares? Seriously.

rea: The hush money was for an adulterous affair with an employee; the employee and her husband were later forced out of their jobs--something that is also arguably illegal.

Really? Okay, that, right there, is in the public interest - if Senator Ensign fired the woman he had an affair with, and her husband, because of the affair, that ceases to be a private matter.

But, *points at Hilzoy's post*, Hilzoy seems much more interested in snarking about the Senator's relationship with his parents (none of her business) and the Hampton children (abslutely none of her business) than the relatively boring issues about "Did a woman just lose her job because she had an affair with the boss?"

I dont think that hilzoy dragged the kids into the post.

If you want to blame someone for involving the kids, blame Sen. Ensign and the parents for using the kids to launder money.

Unfortunately, many, too many, in power, on every stage, know that their money can buy them many things - that's why power at any cost is so important to them. And destructive to us.

But who the hell cares? Seriously.

Because it points out that the $100,000 was clearly not a gift for the benefit of the Hamptons. And since it's not a gift then the Hamptons need to include it on their income tax return and pay taxes on it, something which I'm guessing they didn't do. As such they are liable for the tax, interest, and possibly penalties. So, not only do they get to enjoy having their name splashed across the headlines, the distinguished gentleman has likely handed them an IRS investigation too.

Iirc the info on the Rachel Maddow, Ensign did a lot more. Doubling his mistress's salary, employing her teenage son as 'policy consultant' etc. And that money came not out of his own or family pockets. Absent legal liability the party should be rather upset and clearly beats the Palin clothing extravaganza.

add 'Show' behind Maddow in the previous post.

rea: If you want to blame someone for involving the kids

I wish I didn't have to blame anyone for making snarky comments about a private matter, let alone for making snarky comments about minor children, let alone Hilzoy. But so it is.

blame Sen. Ensign and the parents for using the kids to launder money.

Oh? Now the allegation is that the money was obtained via criminal enterprise and is being given to the children to "launder" it?

Ugh: Because it points out that the $100,000 was clearly not a gift for the benefit of the Hamptons.

Since when? Or, more accurately, how?

Splitting a gift of money across several family members so that each individual gift falls below the tax limit is legal, and while it's an example of how tax law tends to be written to benefit the wealthy rather than the poor, it's not a particlarly abstruse or unusual example: it doesn't take a tax lawyer or a trained accountant to figure this one out, just someone who can look up the rules and divide by 12000.

Jes, the issue here is that hush money was disguised as a series of gifts to family members. The payments in and of themselves are completely legal in terms of falling within the IRS regs, but within the context of the situation they look highly suspicious.

Given that the money came from the parents of Senator Ensign (a technically grown man technically responsible for his own actions), I believe that Hilzoy was correct in invoking the Point and Laugh Rule.

Blogbudsman has this right Jes.

It is the fact that money provides the power for these people and for them to maintain it.

It also serves as a reminder of the duality of our "justice" in this country. Those with money can "buy" their way out of prosecution.

Wonkie has hit the politics nail on the head. I am concerned and should know about it. Here is a holier than thou moralist who decries my life as beneath that of the righeous right, relegating me to second class citizenship and doing all in his power (obtained no doubt because of his/his parents money) to keep it that way.

Kudos to Hilzoy.

Jes needs to lighten up.

Besides, if Mrs. Ensign is real nice to the Apple Store salesman--it's new iPhones for all the kids.

I guess I'm the only one to notice that the amount in question - $96,000 - is TWICE the amount of the claimed 4 gifts?

Makes it more difficult for this business to pass the smell test.

I guess I don't see what everyone is so scandalized about. At least not in the story posted above. Let's keep two things in mind:

1. Parents often go to extraordinary and sometimes unethical lengths to protect their children. Yeah, they should save giving 100k for meteorites, and otherwise donate it to Oxfam, but they don't. Now, from the story, it sounds like Ensign's parents are rich. They're probably really proud of their son-- he's a Senator. I'm sure the conversation where he asked them to pay off his former mistress and her family was awkward. But they probably forgave him, and decided they didn't want his career to end. Most parents would not want their son's career to end because he had an affair. Yeah, it's a little sleazy, but this is hardly outside the norm of human behavior. I think a significant portion of parents, if they had the money, would bail their son out in a situation like this.

2. Obviously they were trying to avoid reporting on or paying taxes for the payoff money. Given the extent to which I've seen people make use of loopholes in order to pay less taxes and report less income, I'm afraid I can't get that indignant. These are laws that a pretty huge portion of the population breaks in exactly these ways.

I'm sorry, but the scandal here is everyday human shabbiness.

Although as to why Ensign's parents made the payments . . .

Ensign ws a successful veterinarian--he owned two animal hospitals. He is rich by normal standards, but probably doesn't have so much money that $100,000 isn't significant.

His parents, though, are in a different catagory. His father was CEO of the company that developed Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas, and is on the record as having sold about $300 million in stock in that company in 2003:

http://www.fool.com/news/take/2003/take031013.htm

$100,000 is chump change to someone like that.

So, do not picture this as Ensign's elderly parents spending their retirement funds to cover up his affair.

Since when? Or, more accurately, how?

"clearly" was probably too strong a word, but it does make one question a claim that you're giving $$ to parents and their children out of the goodness of your heart when you leave out one of the children.

Splitting a gift of money across several family members so that each individual gift falls below the tax limit is legal, and while it's an example of how tax law tends to be written to benefit the wealthy rather than the poor, it's not a particlarly abstruse or unusual example: it doesn't take a tax lawyer or a trained accountant to figure this one out, just someone who can look up the rules and divide by 12000.

Which is all true if it really is a gift. But if I ask you to do something (or in this case, presumably not to do something) and then pay you for it, I can't (or more accurately, you can't) characterize the payments as a "gift" to avoid taxes.

Chmood, apparently there were 8 "gifts": one from each of Ensign's 2 parents to each of 4 members of the Hampton family. And 8 x $12,000 = $96,000.

What a splendid example. If there is one thing that the Greatest Generation did wrong in raising my (Baby Boomer) generation, it is exactly this: in all too many cases they never reached the point where they stood back and let their children deal with the consequences of their actions. In short, they never really let them grow up and learn to be responsible. It was far from universal, of course, but way too common.

And, from what I have seen, that unfortunate pattern did not revert in subsequent generations. Thank God for immigration -- immigrants may be a major source of responsible adults in America in the future.

If the oldest Hampton child is in fact 19, then this would explain why the total amount paid is only $96,000 ($24,000 each for Mr. and Mrs Hamptson and the two children under 18). Any gift to the 19 year-old would be his to do as he pleased since he is legally an adult. By making gifts to the two underage children, their parents can "control" the money.

John PM points out another reason why Hillzoy's snark is offbase.

Ugh: Which is all true if it really is a gift. But if I ask you to do something (or in this case, presumably not to do something) and then pay you for it, I can't (or more accurately, you can't) characterize the payments as a "gift" to avoid taxes.

Actually, you can.

"A federal tax applied to an individual giving anything of value to another person. For something to be considered a gift, the receiving party cannot pay the giver full value for the gift, but may pay an amount less than its full value."

What exactly is the public interest in the private sex life of two consenting adults, again?

What exactly is the public interest in the private sex life of two consenting adults, again?

Strictly speaking, none. However, add one Public Interest Point each for:

1) The consenting adults are a United States Senator and one of said Senator's employees.

2) The Senator provided hush money to the employee via a series of legal-yet-suspicious payments (from his parents) to the employee's family.

The issue isn't that more Repubican politicians cheat on their families or dodge military service than Democratic politicians. The issue is that Republicans as a political strategy run for office on moralistic and psuedo patriotic slogans while not actually being any more moral or patriotic than Democrats. When elections turn on one candidate selling himself as being of superior character while the other candidate talks about the economy or the war or the environment, and the "character" candidate wins, then, by god, the so-called character candidate needs to be held accountable.

wonkie gets to the heart of the matter here. So does wj. Family money and connections allow politicians like Ensign to make their beds without having to lie in them. They are reckless and irresponsible because they know The Family has their back no matter what. When their recklessness and irresponsibility affects their actions in public office (see Bush, George W.), then it is very much a public matter.

Here's an http://www.lvrj.com/news/50424867.html> article looking at the tax and legal implications for both parties. The tax experts consulted saw potential audit problems for Ensign's parents, depending on their gift history. As for the Hampton's, it could be extortion, settlement, or a gift depending on the circumstances.

It's not clear from the article what the Hampton's tax implications would be if it were considered a settlement instead of a gift. In any case we have no information about how the Hamton's handled reporting of the payments. We only have Ensign's lawyer's statement about his parents payments.

Jes, a US senator has paid nearly $100,000 in hush money, disguising the transaction in a particular ridiculous way. The transaction arguably was handled in a way that vioaltes the tax laws.

There is no such argument. There is no violation of tax law here.

Because it points out that the $100,000 was clearly not a gift for the benefit of the Hamptons. And since it's not a gift then the Hamptons need to include it on their income tax return and pay taxes on it, something which I'm guessing they didn't do.

I'm dead certain they didn't pay taxes on it, because there was no tax liability for them to pay. As someone explained above your comment, if there is any gift tax liability, it attaches to the person who gives the money, not the person who receives it.

In this situation, it is clearly a gift. For a number of reasons, there was no contract formed here. There was nothing legally preventing the Hamptons from talking about this as publicly as they wanted, as is clear from the letter sent to Fox. Therefore, there is no consideration received by Ensign's parents, and nothing that would establish this as income. It was a gift.

Or, more accurately, a series of gifts. There's nothing whatsoever wrong about splitting gifts up however you like. So long as you don't give more than the legal limit to any one person, there's no gift tax. It's not like the $10,000 limit on wire transfers without notifying the Fed, which Eliot Spitzer violated. It's not a limit on any one transaction, which one can try to avoid by splitting payments up. It's a limit on the total amount that any one person can give any other one person over the course of a single tax year. There's nothing illegal about breaking up payments in any way you want in order to stay under the limit.

This whole business is tawdry, unseemly, hypocritical, and involves abuses of power. Ensign is a sleaze who should be run out of town on a rail. For once, though, I agree with Jes. This particular post is out of bounds. Now, I think that Jes could have handled it in a more civil fashion, but when is that not true? Unlike some, I suspect that hilzoy would have responded quite well to simply pointing out that she was wrong. The rest of you, though, were told very early on that your assumptions were wrong, including a cite to the actual IRS policies. Rather than actually read them, though, you were so wedded to your determination to accuse the Ensigns and the Hamptons of things that you wanted them to be guilty of that you made fools of yourselves.

There's nothing to see here. Move along. If anyone is interested enough in the Gift Tax to want to actually read it, it's Chapter 12 of the Internal Revenue Code. It's actually only 12 pages long in my copy of the code.

What exactly is the public interest in the private sex life of two consenting adults, again?

Why don't you ask that question of Sen. Ensign, who feels free to complain in public about my sex life? My 20-year monogamous relationship is a threat to the institution of marriage, he claims--but he can't keep his pants on.

In the ideal world, he'd butt out of my life, and I'd shut up about his--but I'm not going to disarm unilaterally in the face of an attack.

And having said that, the "consenting adults" part is a lttle problematic. It's perfectly legal to have an affair with someone who works for you (Bill and Monica), but firing your employee(not to mention her husband) when the affair ends is sex discrimination in employment. This $100,000 is rather transparently being paid in an attempt to forestall a sex discrimination claim. A Senator paying hush money to a potential sex discrimination plaintiff is a legitimate syubject of public discussion.

Here's an article looking at the tax and legal implications for both parties. The tax experts consulted saw potential audit problems for Ensign's parents, depending on their gift history.

They're nuts. The only way this could possibly be construed as something other than a gift is if it were tied to one of the Hamptons conditions of employment. If that were the case, then it might be income rather than a gift. Given that they were in the process of leaving their jobs, and that there was no contractual reason for paying them this money, there's no reason to think that. Money received without any contractual obligations is a gift. Without consideration, there's no contract. This is a case of a paper determined to find someone who will give them multiple sides to a story.

It's actually only 12 pages long in my copy of the code.

Do you have the CCH copy or the RIA copy?

rea: Why don't you ask that question of Sen. Ensign, who feels free to complain in public about my sex life?

Does he? Why do you suppose Hilzoy found that so irrelevant when she blogged about this? Hilzoy is right here on this blog and may even respond if you ask her: if you see the public interest justification in Ensign's sex life being that he has declared a public interest in the sex lives of other people, why do you think Hilzoy didn't touch on that issue in this post? Because she didn't. No more than she touched on the issue that someone else raised, the possibility that Ensign is covering up getting his ex-lover fired.

There's no point defending a blog post that Hilzoy might have written: my point is that Hilzoy's blog post as is brings up nothing so relevant, and no justification why the sex lives of consenting adults are a matter of public interest, but spends a lot of time jeering at people like Ensign's parents and the Huntingdon children, who are neither public figures nor directly involved. Not to mention a lot of dressed-up crap about "gifts".

Note this discussion from SCOTUS in Commissioner v. Duberstein 363 US 278:

The course of decision here makes it plain that the statute does not use the term "gift" in the common-law sense, but in a more colloquial sense. This Court has indicated that a voluntarily executed transfer of his property by one to another, without any consideration or compensation therefor, though a common-law gift, is not necessarily a "gift" within the meaning of the statute. For the Court has shown that the mere absence of a legal or moral obligation to make such a payment does not establish that it is a gift. Old Colony Trust Co. v. Commissioner, 279 U.S. 716, 730 [ 7 AFTR 8875]. And, importantly, if the payment proceeds primarily from "the constraining force of any moral or legal duty," or from "the incentive of anticipated benefit" of an economic nature, Bogardus v. Commissioner, 302 U.S. 34, 41 [ 19 AFTR 1195], it is not a gift. [pg. 1630] And, conversely, "[w]here the payment is in return for services rendered, it is irrelevant that the donor derives no economic benefit from it." Robertson v. United States, 343 U.S. 711, 714 [ 41 AFTR 1053]. 7 A gift in the statutory sense, on the other hand, proceeds from a "detached and disinterested generosity," Commissioner v. LoBue, 351 U.S. 243, 246 [ 49 AFTR 832]; "out of affection, respect, admiration, charity or like impulses." Robertson v. United States, supra, at 714. And in this regard, the most critical consideration, as the Court was agreed in the leading case here, is the transferor's "intention." Bogardus v. Commissioner, 302 U.S. 34, 43 [ 19 AFTR 1195]. "What controls is the intention with which payment, however voluntary, has been made." Id., at 45 (dissenting opinion). 8

I found the post both to the point and appropriately snarky. Good Lord, the man's 51 and a United States senator, and he still runs to his parents to get him out of scrapes? Though I suppose it beats being a 55-year-old president who gets into even worse scrapes because he's too stubborn to ask his Dad for advice. ("Son, if all the neocon kids were going to jump off a roof, would you jump off a roof too?")

It's a limit on the total amount that any one person can give any other one person over the course of a single tax year. There's nothing illegal about breaking up payments in any way you want in order to stay under the limit.

I'm a lawyer, but not a tax lawyer, and I'm a little curious about this.

Suppose there were evidence that Ensign's parents knew and intended that the money given to the Hamptons' children would in fact be passed by the children to the Hamptons -- or, perhaps, would never be passed on by the Hamptons to the children, as it appears to have been given in the form of a single check.

Would that evidence not support a claim by the government that the Hamptons owed gift tax on a $96,000 gift to them (or, perhaps, a $48,000 gift to each of them)?

(If your position is that there's no such evidence here, that's fine -- I might disagree.)

Correction, it's clear from the above exchange that the tax is owed by the donor. So the question would be whether the evidence would support a claim by the government that Ensign's parents owed the tax.

So let me get this straight, Ensign's parents are fair game for strangers on the internet to hold up as examples of bad parenting because they *may* have cheated on their taxex?

Would anyone honestly suggest this if they didn't already regard Ensign as a bigot and dirtbag?

"So let me get this straight, Ensign's parents are fair game for strangers on the internet to hold up as examples of bad parenting because they *may* have cheated on their taxex?

Would anyone honestly suggest this if they didn't already regard Ensign as a bigot and dirtbag?"

Now that people know they may be wealthy? Sure, fair game.

DBake: Would anyone honestly suggest this if they didn't already regard Ensign as a bigot and dirtbag?

Hey, I regard Ensign as a bigot and a dirtbag, and his Republican parents are rich parasites who got rich off the backs of the laboring poor.

Nonetheless, I'd prefer he got attacked for being a bigot and a dirtbag than for having sex with a woman he wasn't married to. Or any of the ancillary "scandal".

DBake and Marty,

I for one do not consider the Ensigns "fair game" because they are rich, but because they insult my intelligence. If you guys take the view that the $96K check was motivated by straight-up, heartfelt generosity -- the kind of charitable impulse that drives many rich people to help unfortunates -- then your intelligence is less easily insulted than mine is.

To be fair to the elder Ensigns, we don't exactly have their side of the story. It wasn't their lawyer who released the statement.

--TP

jes; the paragraph in question was snark. Not snark about the kids, snark about the claim that these gifts were to the kids.

This is not about Sen. Ensign having an affair. It is about possible violations of law, as well as the ludicrous sight of a Senator running to his parents for help. (To be clear: I do not doubt that the gifts were gifts. I do doubt that they were gifts to the supposed beneficiaries, rather than one large gift to one of the Hamptons, or one large gift to each of the two.) If you find the idea of caring about lawbreaking by public officials odd, so be it.

jes; the paragraph in question was snark. Not snark about the kids, snark about the claim that these gifts were to the kids.

And where, exactly, is your evidence that the gifts were not given to the kids? Cite?

If you find the idea of caring about lawbreaking by [the parents of] public officials odd, so be it.

Fixed that for you.

I think that crying "wolf!" when you have no evidence of lawbreaking by the parents of public officials, merely a nice little unsubstantive scandal based on your presumption that the kids didn't get the money they were given, wastes your credibility as someone who opposes lawbreaking by public officials, in much the same way as your promotion of unsubstantive scandals about Hillary Clinton wasted your credibility as a Barack Obama supporter.

Be substantive. Be credible. Snarking about other people's children just makes you look silly, as well as mean.

Nonetheless, I'd prefer he got attacked for being a bigot and a dirtbag than for having sex with a woman he wasn't married to. Or any of the ancillary "scandal".

"So let me get this straight, Ensign's parents are fair game for strangers on the internet to hold up as examples of bad parenting because they *may* have cheated on their taxex?

Would anyone honestly suggest this if they didn't already regard Ensign as a bigot and dirtbag?"

Now that people know they may be wealthy? Sure, fair game.

Feh.

Compare and contrast:

  1. US Senator has a consensual adulterous affair.
  2. US Senator has a consensual adulterous affair with a staff member. After the affair ends she leaves his employ and is given a $25K severance payment, and the senators parents give the woman's family $96K in gifts. These may or may not be related to threats the woman's husband made to expose the affair.

The first is of no interest to me.

The second is because there is a question of abuse of office and potential extortion of a US Senator. Plus, the deal with mom and dad doesn't pass the smell test.

It's fishy. Do you not think so?

Ensign's parents tax position is really not relevant, nor is the fact that they are wealthy. Those are called "red herrings".

Abuse of office and possible extortion of a sitting US Senator are far from out of bounds.

We now have to have cites to support snark?

Cite?

FWIW: Hilzoy's presumption is that one of the children didn't get a gift because Ensign's parents were really giving $96K to their son's mistress, split eight ways to avoid paying gift tax.

Equally: One child's reaction to the idea of being given money by the parents of their mother's lover was a moralistic and judgemental "NO WAY!" Anyone who thinks this just couldn't happen has never met a teenager stiff with the moralistic judgement of their parent's behavior.

Equally: The youngest child was determined by the Hamptons to be too young to understand/receive a gift of that nature - I don't know the ages of any of the kids, but if the oldest is 19, it's not beyond possibility that the youngest is so young that their parents decided that they would just rather not have to explain where the extra money came from.

Equally: the Ensigns (the Senator's parents) agreed with their son that they would give so much money providing it was divided up in such a way that the givers didn't have to pay gift tax. And there is nothing illegal about that.

Having consensual sex with a person you're not married to is not a crime. Attempting to conceal that you had consensual sex with a person you're not married to is not, in and of itself, a crime. Splitting up a cash gift in such a way as to ensure the givers and receivers pay the least possible tax on it is not a crime.

Hilzoy, your post is not about a criminal wrongdoing. It's about a non-crime that the mainstream media are talking up into a juicy scandal by hinting that maybe someone did something illegal. And you fell for it.

If you guys take the view that the $96K check was motivated by straight-up, heartfelt generosity -- the kind of charitable impulse that drives many rich people to help unfortunates -- then your intelligence is less easily insulted than mine is.

No, I take the exact opposite view, as I made pretty clear in my first post. Nonetheless, my intelligence is definitely less easily insulted than yours, because I don't take personal offense when someone misrepresents their financial activity to the IRS. According to a website I just looked at the IRS estimates that 17% of people cheat on their taxes. I don't know how accurate it is, but there you go.

I also don't know whether that estimate includes people and businesses who are doing things that are technically legal, but clearly violate the spirit of the law. Anyway, the Ensigns look like they might fall into the latter category.

In any case, do you really think 1 in 5 Americans are personally insulting you? Or are you mad at the Ensigns over something else?

The second is because there is a question of abuse of office and potential extortion of a US Senator. Plus, the deal with mom and dad doesn't pass the smell test.

It's fishy. Do you not think so?

Sure, I hope the IRS and the relevant police look into this. Ensign may be guilty of abuse of power. The Hamptons may be guilty of extortion. Ensign's parents may owe back taxes.

What I object to is sanctimonious cluck-clucking about whether Ensign's parents are good parents, which made up a large portion of the initial post. And while I agree that cheating on taxes is illegal, it is such a widespread crime that I refuse to act as though these people are beyond the pale for stretching the concept of a 'gift' when filing with the IRS.

This is akin to my refusal to get that upset about politicians or athletes doing drugs.

Jes, I don't speak for Hilzoy. But in general, I support the propostion that the sex lives of politicians are irrelevant to public discourse--unless they're the kind of politician that wants the government to interfere with the sex lives of others. All these "family values" adulterers are fair game. This Ensign guy is one of those who claim that allowing gays like me to marry would destroy the institution of marriage. No one who cheats on his wife and then pays off his mistress and her familiy ought to dare say that in public.

I dunno. Now that I think of it, it's very useful to have someone else tell you what you really meant. I mean, otherwise, how would you know for sure?

DBake,

Nobody would be discussing the elder Ensigns' taxes had not their son's lawyer issued a public statement about their "gift" to his client's mistress's family.

Their wealth is not the issue either: had they mortgaged their humble homestead to come up with the money, the son's lawyer's statement about their "gift" would still be an insult to the average person's intelligence.

--TP

Here's a profile of the Hampton's from the http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jul/05/ensigns-pal-lacked-usual-qualifications-top-job/>Las Vegas Sun
There's a 19 year old with no description of current location, school or work status and twins in a private high school.

If Ensign's parents both gave the annual exclusion of $12,000 to four different people, then they would have had to report it to the IRS anyway, even if the purported gift is not taxable.

Gift Splitting

If you or your spouse makes a gift to a third party, the gift can be considered as made one-half by you and one-half by your spouse. This is known as gift splitting. Both of you must consent (agree) to split the gift. If you do, you each can take the annual exclusion for your part of the gift.

In 2008, gift splitting allows married couples to give up to $24,000 to a person without making a taxable gift.

If you split a gift you made, you must file a gift tax return to show that you and your spouse agree to use gift splitting. You must file a Form 709 even if half of the split gift is less than the annual exclusion.

As other people have amply pointed out, there is nothing at all illegal in the way that Ensign's parents structered the transfer so as to avoid gift tax consequences.

That said, I'm not sure what the law is here, but it looks to me like the IRS could at least plausibly argue that this was in the nature of a settlement between Ensign and the Hamptons and that the parents paid off the settlement on Ensign's behalf so that a) the Hamptons owe income tax on the transfer b) the parents actually made a $96,000 gift to Ensign, $72,000.00 of which was taxable (although they probably would not actually pay any taxes on the transfer).

Maybe this was also sarcasm, but it seems kind of clueless to me to assume that this $96,000 was actually the parents' money. Isn't it more likely that Ensign was laundering his own money through his parents to try to avoid attention?

If Ensign's parents both gave the annual exclusion of $12,000 to four different people, then they would have had to report it to the IRS anyway, even if the purported gift is not taxable.

I think that only applies if one parent gives more than the annual exclusion to one individual. That is, if the Ensigns each separately wrote a $12,000 check to each of the Hamptons, they wouldn't have to file the form.

Tony P.,

I imagine the Ensigns and the lawyer know that the public won't believe this is a benevolent act of charity. Note that calling something a gift does not imply that giving it was benevolent. I know people who give gifts in order to later emotionally blackmail the recipient.

It's pretty clear from the wording he's using-- look at his sentence again if you don't believe me-- that he's trying to establish that everything met the letter of the law. He's not saying these are wonderful people, or give any indication that he expects us to believe that. He's trying to establish that the transfer of money was technically legal.

So I'm still not seeing how the lawyer or the parents insulted you. Nor do I see the justification for speculating on whether they are good parents or not.

I think that only applies if one parent gives more than the annual exclusion to one individual. That is, if the Ensigns each separately wrote a $12,000 check to each of the Hamptons, they wouldn't have to file the form.
Ensign's lawyer gave us the statement that they wrote one check. It seemed an odd detail to mention.

Ensign's lawyer gave us the statement that they wrote one check.

Really? I would have at least thought they would write separate checks for the individuals (even if each check was for $24k), so as to show that the gifts were indeed under the limit (unless they made one check out to Mr., Mrs., Jr1 and Jr2 altoghether, and was co-signed by both Ensigns, all of which would be odd). Otherwise, it's going to be hard to prove to the IRS that you meant to split the gift among four individuals, if all you have is one big cancelled check for $96K made out to Mr. Hampton (or Mrs.).

"Really?" yes really. In the second paragraph of the text hilzoy quoted from the NYT for this very post.

hizoy passed up a wonderful snark-inducing angle to this story--the links with the The Family Christian group home and Sen. Sanford. Ensigh and his brother in adultery Sanford are both members of the C Street Christian support group. As I understand the story, the group members ganged up on Ensign and told him to stop banging his girlfriend. They also pressured him into sending a pay off promise to the girlfriend by Fedex. Hi did so, but cancelled the letter by phoning her and contradicting verbally the written contents of the letter.

Nothing illegal here. But totally indicative of the kind of politicians Republican voters are electing.

All these "family values" adulterers are fair game.

And all their families, too...?

Just the place for some snark!
I have said it twice.
That alone should suffice for this crew.
Just the place for some snark!
I have said it thrice.
What I tell you three times is true.

"Really?" yes really. In the second paragraph of the text hilzoy quoted from the NYT for this very post.

What? I have to read the post before commenting? This blog has high standards. ;-)

Anyway, that was stupid of them, IMHO. And they would thus have to file the form. All in all, this smacks of hush-money, which IMO is taxable income.

And all their families, too...?

This is a hard one for me, and the explanation isn't quick.

In late April I attended the Maine legislature's Judiciary Committee's hearing on the same-sex marriage bill that was later passed by the legislature and signed by the governor (which wouldn't have gone into effect for 3 months after the end of the session anyhow, but in relation to which we are now being treated to a "people's veto" signature campaign; so if you see Maine listed among the states that allow same-sex marriage, you should also understand that no one is getting married here yet, and there's a very good chance that no one ever will under this particular law).

The hearing was held in the Augusta Civic Center because of the expected crowd; roughly 3,000 people attended. Testimony alternated between the pro and con sides, half an hour per side; each person testifying could talk for no more than 3 minutes. The hearing lasted for 13 hours with only one break, i.e. hundreds of people testified.

If you could characterize the pro side, it would be with the one word: "families." Gay or lesbian couples, many with children. Parents of gays with or without their kids and grandkids. Extended families of straight ex-spouses, gay or lesbian couples, kids from various subsets of parents, i.e. families blended from many parts, as so many families today are.

All these people had stories to tell about the difficulties they faced as couples, as parents, as children -- as families -- because gay people can't get married.

Cut to the debate in the Maine House a couple of weeks later. A representative from far downeastern Maine spoke about his previous work as a law enforcement officer and his more recent work with families and children at risk. He spoke eloquently and movingly about the struggles families and children face in this era.

I was sitting there waiting for what to me -- especially after the hearing in the Civic Center -- was the next obvious thing for him to say, which was that we should pass this bill because it was such an obvious and simple way to help remove at least some of the difficulties from the lives of some of the families in Maine, with the added bonus that it wouldn't do any harm to anyone else.

Did he say that?

No.

He said (and I paraphrase): "So I hope you will all vote no with me, because families just don't need one more hit. They are already struggling enough."

I have been trying to process this speech for 3 months. I wasn't surprised, or at least the only surprise was that I can still be hurt by something a stranger says. What I can't tell -- and surely will never know -- is whether this man understands that gay people belong to families too, and he just doesn't care, and is perfectly happy to throw gay families (including their children) in the trash because of the benefit he assumes will accrue from that decision to the families he thinks do matter; or it honestly just has never come home to him that gay people are people too, just like him, and gay families are families too, just like his.

People like this Mainer and Senator Ensign and all the others disappear the families of gay people. They damage us every day by maintaining the status quo, with DOMA intact and most states not even making a pretense of thinking about a whisper of a hint of repealing their constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage.

So while I think we should do everything we can to keep the focus on Ensign and off his family, I think his hypocrisy deserves all the attention we can give it, and if his family gets some of the fallout from that, well, who was it who put them in that position in the first place?

The hypocrisy that JamieM most eloquently described above is the main reason most people are reacting against. I can think of no other description than absolute hypocrisy, to run on a "family values/ sanctity of marriage" kick, and then cheat on your wife. The second could be simple outrage/shock/jealousy at the fact that he has rich parents who were able to give a very large sum of money to his mistress, through his parents. Now it may well be that this gift was simply to help the family out of a rough time financially, but let's not pretend it isn't even mildly interesting. It may be personal, but when you are a public figure, running on a platform such as the one Ensign ran on, you don't have the luxury of privacy when it comes to family affairs. That right evaporated the moment he told other people how to live their lives. It's a shame for his children to have been dragged into this mess, but for that, they have their father to thank. I have no sympathy for him, some for his wife, and much for all the kids involved. It's really a shame that Ensign's professed love of family didn't end up doing his own very much good.

JanieM: and if his family gets some of the fallout from that, well, who was it who put them in that position in the first place?

Well, in this instance, it was the New York Times.

And you know - I don't disagree with anything else you've said in your 10 July 2009 at 05:29 PM comment - in fact I enthusiastically agree with most of it.

I just think, if I want all families to be respected, no children to be attacked for who their parents are, and for the sex lives of consenting adults to be their own private business, I don't get there by disrespecting someone else's family, attacking children for who their parents are, and muckraking into someone's private sex life.

Which is what Hilzoy is doing in this post. After, I've noted before, dismissing that homophobic DoJ memo as being of no more interest to anyone after a few days had passed.

"After, I've noted before, dismissing that homophobic DoJ memo as being of no more interest to anyone after a few days had passed."

Could you quote the sentences in which she did this, please?

Many of the comments here are full of speculations about the motives of the parties involved. It is my understanding that the two families involved had a long and friendly relationship before the events that made news. Since the Hampton's livelihood was intertwined with that relationship, and Ensign was the power behind the events, it seems reasonable to consider that the monetary transaction was exactly what it purports to be. The current economic downturn and difficult job market may have been an influence driving making the gift. Criticism of Ensign's adultery seems reasonable but most of us don't know the motives behind the gift transaction..

"Many of the comments here are full of speculations about the motives of the parties involved."

True enough. But this also involves a speculation about the motives of Ensign's parents:

"it seems reasonable to consider that the monetary transaction was exactly what it purports to be."

None of us here know what the motives of Ensign's parents were.

There's a clear possibility that a sitting US Senator arranged to have not quite $100K paid to the family of a former staff person he had an affair with in order to make her husband shut up and go away.

IMO it's worth finding out if that's what happened.

Well, in this instance, it was the New York Times.

In this instance, it was Ensign's lawyer, who issued a statement. Did the NYT force him to do that?

As for Hilzoy, she and the other posters at ObWi often write about topics I'm not interested in, ignore topics I'm fascinated with, and come at their material from angles I don't sympathize with. Oh well, it's their blog. I can always go read a book, and oftentimes I do (though less often than I should, given the mesmerizing nature of the internet).

Hilzoy doesn't owe me anything.

And as usual, what Russell said, as a tacit response to the appropriateness of muckraking into someone's "private sex life." Ensign is a US Senator who had an affair with an employee...his parents paid the employee and her family a pile of money...his lawyer issued a public statement about the money. These people's "private sex life" is embedded in a public context, and you can't untangle the two. What they did in bed is and should remain private (no one here is seems remotely interested in speculating about that). But the power and money relationships are a matter of public interest in a way that they would not be for, let's say, any random celebrity. Not to mention the hypocrisy part.

Gary: I believe I said, at one point, that I hadn't written about that memo because I was busy offline, and by the time I got to read it, several days had elapsed.

For the record, that does not mean that I thought it was of no further interest to anyone. I assume -- I hope correctly -- that I am not anyone's sole source for news and analysis. In that case, a lot of people had already written about that, and had done a good job. Had I believed that if I didn't write about it, everyone who reads ObWi would remain completely ignorant of the memo, that would have been different. (And that is one reason why I'm more likely to write about things that affect trans issues after several days: a lot of people will reliably cover things like the memo, as in that case they did, but not a lot of people will write about trans issues, ever.)

I know that Jes thinks that I have somehow betrayed all the causes of righteousness, but in this instance, she's wrong. Likewise, the bit about ridiculing the family. I did not. I did point out that if I took this gift at face value, it was quite cruel to one of the kids. I stand by that. But it was a way of ridiculing the idea that the Ensign's story should be taken at face value.

On the topic of kids: in reading stories about politicians, I do sometimes think about the kids. This is for the not very surprising reason that I was, in fact, the kid of a semi-famous person. Moreover, my best friend was the kid of a seriously famous person, and one who, unlike my Dad, was -- how to say this tactfully? -- a harder person about whom to feel the kind of pride that every kid wants to feel about his or her parents. I saw the grief she took about her Dad. It was pretty striking to me, growing up. So the thought 'how is this for their kids?' comes naturally to me.

All of which would make my holding them up to ridicule even less comprehensible, had I done it.

I don't know why Gail Collins doesn't get more acclaim.

She keeps doing what everyone used to think they were applauding Maureen Dowd for doing, except she's, like, smart.

I don't know why Gail Collins doesn't get more acclaim.

Well, I thought that as editor of the op-ed page, she had the authority to fire Maureen Dowd. The fact that she hasn't seems like a very good reason why she doesn't deserve acclaim. After all, Dowd can't help being what she is: a shallow self-absorbed intellectually and emotionally stunted writer. But her bosses can help it and their refusal to do so reflects poorly on them.

"Well, I thought that as editor of the op-ed page, she had the authority to fire Maureen Dowd."

You would be wrong and out of date by almost three years.

Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor of The New York Times, is in charge of the paper's opinion pages, both in the newspaper and online. He oversees the editorial board, the Letters and Op-Ed departments, as well as the Editorial and Op-Ed sections of NYTimes.com. The editorial department of the paper is completely separate from the news operations and Mr. Rosenthal answers directly to the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

He is assisted by Carla Robbins, deputy editor; David Shipley, deputy editor for Op-Ed and digital; and Thomas Feyer, the Letters editor.

Under his direction, the 18 members of the board prepare the paper's editorials. The board holds regular meetings to discuss current issues. The editorials are written by individual board members in consultation with their colleagues, and are edited by Mr. Rosenthal and Ms. Robbins.

Mr. Rosenthal became editorial page editor on Jan. 8, 2007. He was deputy editorial page editor since September 2003. Previously he served as assistant managing editor for news and foreign editor of The Times. He also served as national editor for six months in 2000, supervising coverage of the presidential elections and the post-election day recount, and as Washington editor.

Collins retired to be just a columnist some years ago.

Gail Collins:

Gail Collins (born November 25, 1945) was the Editorial Page Editor of The New York Times from 2001 to January 1, 2007. She was the first female Editorial Page Editor at the Times. Prior to editing the Editorial Page, Collins was an editorial board member and an op-ed columnist. On October 12, 2006, she announced that she would step down as Editorial Page Editor, effective at the end of that year. Collins took six months off to write a book, and returned to the Times to reprise her role as columnist in July 2007. Her column presently runs every Thursday and Saturday.

I praise Gail Collins frequently (but not enough), so let me vary, and praise someone whom I praise rarely (and only rarely deserves it), and that's Peggy Noonan for this smart piece on Sarah Palin.

Of course, Noonan only wrote this because of her famous liberal hatred for conservatives like Palin and Ronald Reagan.

Hilzoy: I know that Jes thinks that I have somehow betrayed all the causes of righteousness, but in this instance, she's wrong.

Not at all. I just think you can't bear to criticize Barack Obama (and of course was disappointed in you when you took to promoting the anti-Clinton crap that the media were delighting in during the primaries - there were so many more intelligent ways to criticize Clinton that just the standard bile which you were regurgitating back then).

My problem with this is first that it's, in your words, "pointless ugliness".

So the thought 'how is this for their kids?' comes naturally to me.

And yet, it didn't stop you from snarking at the kids in this instance. Nice. If it "comes naturally" to you to think "how is this for their kids", do you then presume that those kids will never read what you write about them on the Internet, so it doesn't matter how hurtful you are?

Gary, seeing as how Collins had 6 years in which to fire Dowd, I don't think my central point that she's a crummy professional who has done tremendous disservice to NYT readers is wrong. But feel free to nitpick dates; that is usually highly productive.

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