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January 29, 2015

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House committee conducting ethics probe of Rep. Shelley Berkley

Shelley Berkley

Shelley Berkley

The House Committee on Ethics announced today it is launching a inquiry into Rep. Shelley Berkley's actions.

The committee does not disclose what it is probing, but it appears to be related to the congresswoman’s past advocacy for Medicare coverage of kidney care that her husband, a kidney doctor, stood to benefit from. Word of the probe, which committee leaders stressed was not a determination of any ethics violation, nonetheless threatens to complicate Berkley’s Senate bid against Republican Sen. Dean Heller.

Berkley has come under fire from Heller’s supporters, as well as the independent watchdog organization Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, for actions first outlined in a New York Times report last year, which detailed how Berkley had urged lawmakers and government agencies to sustain Medicare funding for kidney dialysis and transplants.

Berkley’s husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, is a partner in a nephrology firm that has the only contract to provide such services at University Medical Center.

The probe originated with a complaint the Nevada Republican Party sent to the Office of Congressional Ethics last fall, which referred the matter to the House Ethics Committee on Feb. 9, according to the statement this morning from the committee. The Nevada GOP did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Berkley, who has defended her motivations as those of a representative looking out for the best interests of her constituents, maintained that stance today. A spokeswoman for Berkley’s campaign appeared to suggest the complaint was politically motivated.

“The Nevada Republican Party filed a complaint against Congresswoman Berkley. As the committee reviews this complaint, they will determine that Congresswoman Shelley Berkley’s only concern is for the well being of Nevada’s patients,” Berkley campaign manager Jessica Mackler said in a statement. “That’s why she fought against out-of-state Washington bureaucrats from restricting patients’ access to care and why she joined fellow Reps. Jon Porter and Dean Heller to stop Nevada’s only kidney transplant program from being shut down, which would have denied life saving treatment to hundreds of Nevadans.”

Berkley joined the rest of the Nevada House delegation in arguing against reducing compensation rates for dialysis treatments or curtailing reimbursements for kidney transplants.

CREW's report notes Berkley is the single-largest career recipient of campaign funds from the Renal Physicians Association, where Lerner is member of the political action committee board.

Those associations were enough that the group gave Berkley a “dishonorable mention” in its report of the 19 “Most Corrupt” lawmakers in Congress last year.

The contract between Lehrner’s firm and UMC is worth a reported $738,000. Kidney transplants are one of 11 medical services outlined under the terms of service between the firm and the hospital.

According to the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients, Lehrner’s firm performed 127 kidney transplants at UMC between July 2008 and June 2011. The firm’s contract was renewed, at a 25 percent increase, in late 2010. Lehrner has a 9.09 percent ownership stake in the firm.

At the time Berkley took up the cause of kidney care under question, the wait list for kidney care was long and services were in need of improvement; reports from the time also show UMC officials approached her, along with the rest of the delegation, to use their federal influence to keep Medicare payments flowing.

Berkley has urged for more or sustained Medicare coverage of other medical services as well, not just kidneys. But she admitted to the Las Vegas Review-Journal last fall, after these allegations surfaced, that she should have done more to disclose her personal relationship with a potential beneficiary of the policies she was pursuing.

Now the real question is whether voters will believe, as she wants them to, that her heart was in the right place.

“Obviously, it’s not good. This is something they had hoped would go away, but obviously the outside ethics investigators found cause to refer it,” said UNLV political science professor David Damore. “This allows for people to speculate; it distracts from the message that she wants to get out...and it gives Heller more fodder, because this won’t be resolved before the June primaries.”

The committee said today they will announce how they intend to proceed by July 9.

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  1. Come on! A 9% stake in the business - a waiting list for patient care - give me a break! This is a political move by the Republicans to HURT the citizens once again. If ANYONE is in need of life-saving treatments and are put on a waiting list, and you are in the position of doing something about it....wouldn't you???

    This is pennies ($738k) for doing all of those surgeries AND SAVING LIVES!!! Additionally - it's the pot calling the kettle black - what about Cheney and Haliburton? Cheney got a $34 million dollar payoff when he left Haliburton, who was awarded all of the NO BID contracts in Iraq. And the war was to KILL PEOPLE, (and make a few republicans richer) not save ANY lives!

    This country is more corrupt than a primitive, cannibalistic, superstitious, tribal dictatorship living in the deepest jungles yet to be explored OR equal to the Taliban. Especially the Republicans that call women FEMINAZIs and want to control their freedoms concerning their own bodies.

    God forbid a Republican gets in as POTUS - I am sure laws for permission to have sexual activity and burqas will follow. No healthcare, no medicare, no unemployment, no social services, no education, NO NO NO NO NO NO to anything HUMANE.

  2. I, on the other hand, pray a Republican not only takes back the formerly White House, but wins majority in both the House and Senate. I and the Republicans can fix ANY AND ALL health care issues in 8 words-the purchase of health insurance across state lines. If competition was allowed then prices, as a result of the free market system, would drop like a brick. And I am not a republican but a libertarian who wants the government out of my life and my bank account and wants business to get the breaks it deserves and the present administration wants to punish.

  3. Comment removed by moderator. Off Topic

  4. Rep Berkley probably doesn't need to worry about this. It is very weak at best and the ethics committee knows that. However Rep Berkley needs to worry a bit about her upcoming election against Dean Heller. He seems to be doing a good job in the Senate which will most likely help him in the general election. So far, he seems to be basically down the middle of the road where Rep Berkley is on the far left.

  5. >>I, on the other hand, pray a Republican not only takes back the formerly White House, but wins majority in both the House and Senate.<<

    The formerly White House?

    That's Racist, pal.

  6. Pure political hackery in an election year. The GOP will stoop to any level to keep Dean Heller in office. He is already shifting to the middle ground on many issues, as he girds up to face the ENTIRE ELECTORATE in Nevada, not just the GOP stronghold in the cow counties that he used to represent.

  7. I notice there is no dispute of charges in these comments, just the implication of political hackery. So regardless of the validity of the claims, it is Berkeley's position that if it had not been brought to light (regardless of by whom), the status quo would have been maintained. Term Limits for senators and congressmen (I did not capitalize these for a reason, as I have no respect for either position whether it be at the state or federal level), is the only way to stop this. 2 - 4 year terms and OUT (alternating on non-presidential election years).....but We The People know that PACs and lobbying organization have spent time and boucoup $$$$ to get their people in office, and KEEP THEM THERE.

  8. White (typically a symbol for goodness and purity), of which the 'White House' is NEITHER!!! I do not see @Texas' comments as 'racist', though some may like to interpret them that way (which means they - the interpreter have a pre-determined the ethnicity of the poster in order to make the racist statement valid, which to me is just as reprehensible.

  9. Congresswoman Berkley puts the needs of Nevada citizens first and foremost in all she does! She has not forgotten where she came from or how her family struggled - and her heart is always in the right place!

    Shelley is one of the most open and approachable politicians I've ever come to know! This very program saved, and sustained, my Grand-fathers life!

    I'd also point out that Shelley has been Nevada's #1 Advocate for Veterans - she is loved by vets on both sides of the aisle because she always tells us the truth, good, bad or ugly! We would not be getting the new V.A. Medical Center if it were not for Shelley Berkley and Harry Reid - but, of course, the Republicans that fought AGAINST VETERANS all along the way, are now going to try to take credit for that too!

    It's extremely partisan Republican politics at it's worse - nothing new from the Red Team, sadly! Dean Heller and his media mumbo-jumbo team should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to create crap out of mud, and thinking they will get away with it!