O, What A Tangled Web We Weave

From the NYT:

“Senator John Ensign’s wealthy parents gave almost $100,000 to his former lover and her family, ostensibly out of concern for their welfare and as part of a “pattern of generosity,” his lawyer disclosed Thursday.

A statement by his lawyer, Paul Coggins, on behalf of the Mr. Ensign, a Republican from Nevada, said that in April 2008 the senator’s parents each gave $12,000 apiece to Cindy Hampton, her husband, Doug, and two of their children in the form of a single check for $96,000.

“The payments were made as gifts, accepted as gifts and complied with tax rules governing gifts,” the statement read. 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.”

I’m trying to imagine how the conversation between Sen. Ensign and his parents went. Senator Ensign is 51, old enough, I would have thought, to take care of his own problems. Is he in the habit of asking his parents for nearly a hundred thousand dollars? Why on earth didn’t his parents do the sensible thing and tell him to deal with his problems himself? It’s one thing to be prepared to bail your kids out when they are struck by meteorites, or get a serious illness, or something similarly unpredictable and costly. It’s quite another to spend several times the US median income to get him out of a situation that he ought to have had the good sense never to get into.

I’m not sure which is more extraordinary: that Sen. Ensign had so little self-respect that he was willing to ask his parents for help for this, or that his parents actually agreed.

$96,000 is a lot of money. Interestingly, it is precisely the amount you can give as a gift without having to report it to the IRS, multiplied by eight: one gift of $12,000 from each parent to Ensign’s lover, her husband, and two of their children. I wonder what the IRS will make of that? I certainly hope that neither of the parents has made use of their children’s money, or done anything else to suggest that this was all one big gift split up to avoid paying gift tax, or (more likely) having to report the gift. It’s bad enough asking your parents to cough up $96,000 to cover up your indiscretions; asking them to violate the tax code and risk prison is a whole lot worse.

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.

All these fascinating family conversations to imagine. So much easier to do things the straightforward way: don’t have affairs, and if you do, deal with them yourself, by legal means.