Las Vegas Sun

March 29, 2015

Currently: 67° — Complete forecast | Log in | Create an account

GOP files ethics complaint against Shelley Berkley; Democrats call it hypocrisy


Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Sun

Rep. Shelley Berkley laughs with constituents during her “Congress on the Corner” event honoring Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Friday, Jan. 14, at her office in Las Vegas.

The Nevada Republican Party filed an official complaint with the Office of Congressional ethics Wednesday morning, charging that Senate hopeful Shelley Berkley used her position as congresswoman to advance the financial interests of her husband, kidney specialist Dr. Larry Lehrner.

“Congresswoman Berkley has used her office to enrich herself,” the complaint reads. “She has repeatedly taken direct action on behalf of her husband’s financial interests while accepting campaign contributions from her husband’s industry’s PAC, which was chaired by her husband."

Two weeks ago, a report in the New York Times about Berkley’s efforts to advocate for federal funding of kidney care in Congress sparked controversy for the Democratic front-runner for the Senate seat John Ensign vacated this spring. Dean Heller, a Republican, is serving out the rest of Ensign’s term, and is running to keep the seat in 2012.

Berkley’s husband Lehrner has the only federally funded contract to provide kidney transplant services at University Medical Center in Las Vegas -- a contract worth $738,000 a year.

“I think going to bat for the hospital [UMC], it’s really hard for me to see that as a big conflict,” Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an nonpartisan ethics watchdog group, to the AP. “The concept of closing the only transplant center in the entire state, that seems to be like a big deal, and it seems like any member of Congress would have to be involved, plus she didn’t initiate it, so it just doesn’t bother me very much.”

But on Tuesday, CREW listed Berkley in its report on the most corrupt members of Congress. The report gives her a “dishonorable mention” -- a designation that doesn’t accuse her outright of violating the law, but demonstrates she has a “lack of regard for the rules.”

The ethics complaint now opens the door to the possibility of consequences beyond the campaign trail.

“Nevadans deserve to know the truth,” Nevada GOP chair Amy Tarkanian said in a statement released with a copy of the complaint. “Why did Shelley Berkley fail to disclose this blatant conflict of interest, and besides violating the public trust, did she break any rules with her disturbing backroom behavior in Washington?”

A complaint does not automatically trigger an ethics inquiry, and the ethics committee doesn’t publicize or comment on whether or not they’ve commenced a preliminary review of a representative until they’ve done a fair amount of fact-finding.

State Democrats today lobbed a counter-charge: that the Nevada’s GOP’s complaint is “hyper-partisan and highly hypocritical” given that Heller has also seemingly cast votes in favor of lobbyists’ positions shortly after accepting their checks.

Last June, a lobbyist for British Petroleum co-hosted a fundraiser for Heller, shortly after he was sworn in as Nevada’s 25th senator, and shortly before he voted against ending subsidies for big oil companies.

But that counter-charge only speaks to half the complaint: Heller’s not related to the lobbyists he associates with, and while his campaign chest might benefit from PAC donations, there’s no thread of an allegation that he could also be personally profitting from his votes.

Spokesmen for Heller and the National Republican Senatorial Committee accused Berkley of petty politics in the past for her charges that his lobbying ties were suspect.

Democrats do not appear to have any plans to formalize their charge against Heller with an ethics complaint.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy

Previous Discussion: 8 comments so far…

Comments are moderated by Las Vegas Sun editors. Our goal is not to limit the discussion, but rather to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and contain no abusive language. Comments that are off-topic, vulgar, profane or include personal attacks will be removed. Full comments policy. Additionally, we now display comments from trusted commenters by default. Those wishing to become a trusted commenter need to verify their identity or sign in with Facebook Connect to tie their Facebook account to their Las Vegas Sun account. For more on this change, read our story about how it works and why we did it.

Only trusted comments are displayed on this page. Untrusted comments have expired from this story.

  1. It was unethical. It certainly isn't the worst thing she's done.

  2. "I think going to bat for the hospital [UMC], it's really hard for me to see that as a big conflict," Melanie Sloan, director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, an nonpartisan ethics watchdog group, to the AP. "The concept of closing the only transplant center in the entire state, that seems to be like a big deal, and it seems like any member of Congress would have to be involved, plus she didn't initiate it, so it just doesn't bother me very much."
    Thank you.

  3. I think how Berkely went about this was unwise, especially since the rest of the Nevada delegation was in support of it as well. It could have been handled differently.

    That said, this is probably nothing more than a pimple on a fly compared to other dealings in D.C.

  4. Like Vincent Bugliosi said, it's time to prosecute George W. Bush for murder. The charges are still fresh.

  5. I would like to echo boftx. I also would add that for Republicans to question anybody's ethics is like Casey Anthony questioning Susan Smith's fitness to be a mother.

  6. So do Nevada Republicans now support shutting down UMC's kidney transplant program so sick patients would be forced to fly to California to get the treatment they need? This is Nevada's ONLY kidney transplant program. It's nice to see the Nevada GOP trying to score political points in DC while brushing aside Nevada's health care needs.

  7. The Republican Party is in campaign mode.

    They filed this not to seek justice, but only to make sure that people hear the allegation that makes the Democrats look back.

    In no way shape or form do they want any of the reasons spelled out for what she did. They don't want Representative Berkley's side of the story. They also do not want the outcome of it revealed, especially if turns out to be nothing. Nor do they want people to understand there is a "grey area," they just want it in black and white, and paint it as something despicable the Democrats did.

    The Republican Party of Nevada only attacks. That's all they know. They have lost the people. They just have themselves and their stupid right wing extremism unpopular political ideology. This has been proven to provide nothing of value to anyone.

    Their appointed Senator (appointed, not elected, not even popularly elected, APPOINTED) is just warming a seat. He voted not once, but TWICE for the Ryan Plan to end Medicare and replace it with a totally inferior and implausible system that makes no sense other than to benefit the filthy rich with more and more and more tax cuts. And here they attack someone vying for his Senate Seat because they are trying to provide a health benefit sorely needed by people in Southern Nevada? Does anyone see the hypocrisy of this?

    The Republicans of Nevada are desperate.

    Heller has switched to campaign mode. He knows his time ain't long.

    Sit back and let cobwebs collect on their carcasses and pursue dust settling on them will somehow make the party on the other side of the aisle look bad. The American people see these elected officials are not earning the pay they were elected into office to do.

    Perhaps what Representative Berkley tried doing to provide something of benefit to Southern Nevada gave out the wrong perception that she gained money from it, but I find the Republicans of Nevada even worse for being the political hounds nipping at her heels.

    If Republicans in power would spend more energy helping to fix this thing called America more than they do on political posturing, we all would have some forward momentum. People need to understand that if this invented case of impropriety didn't occur, they'd make up something else anyways. Because that's ALL they do. They care about money and power. They could give a crap about people. The Republican Party thrives off of drama. They think it will get them somewhere, but it only makes them look stupid and out of touch.

    Bring on the 2012 elections. I'm ready to get rid of them out of Nevada. This non-stop attack on the middle class is ending right here and now. They're gone. Nevada deserves better.

  8. WHAT do they WANT from Congresswoman Shelley Berkley?

    Maybe they would FEEL better if she wore a lapel pin with a disclaimer stating her associations! That could put an end to this nonsense.

    Patients have a choice of where to obtain medical services. They could go elsewhere if they so choose.

    This political bickering and posturing needs to stop, and these politicians need to FIX our crippled country!