The Congresswomans former husband, the late Sonny Bono, was deeply involved with the controversial church, according to a number of people who follow the organization, although he sometimes downplayed or denied any association with the group. He was introduced to Scientology by Mimi Rogers, Tom Cruises ex, and at one point became so involved in the church that he reportedly prepared a testimonial to the religion.
Several high-level members of the church, including the Rev. Heber Jentzsch, the president of Scientology, attended Sonny Bonos funeral earlier this year. A spokeswoman for the church acknowledged that Scientology officials attended Sonny Bonos funeral, but would not comment on Congresswoman Bono.
The freshman congresswoman is one of the highest-profile politicians on Capitol Hill and is a member of the powerful House Committee on National Security and sits on the House Committee on the Judiciary, which is pursuing impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. "I think [Congresswoman Bonos] only relationship with Scientology was through Sonny," says Frank Cullen, a spokesman for Mary Bono, although he acknowledges that members of the church, which has several centers in Bonos district, have met with the congresswoman. "She indicated that they would get a fair hearing just like any of our constituents."
The church has been at the center of several controversies recently; critics accuse it of cultlike tactics and attempts to influence government. Defenders and members of the church, which not long ago received tax-exempt status as a religion from the IRS, say it is the victim of harassment and violation of constitutional rights to religious freedom.
"One of the long-standing issues with Scientology critics is a debate whether Scientology has political aspirations," noted Stephen Kent, an expert of the sociology of religion at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. "Mary Bonos ties to the church, while not definitive, suggest that the church is gaining political influence through connections in high places."
Scientology critic Rick Ross was more blunt. "Sonny Bono long carried water for the Scientologists in Washington," said Ross, a consultant who has long done battle with Scientology and other controversial religions and cults. "Now it looks like Mary is Scientologys lady on the Hill."