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January 27, 2015

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Ethics watchdog group gives Berkley a dishonorable mention

WASHINGTON--For the second year running, Rep. Shelley Berkley made a DC watchdog group’s list of most ignominious lawmakers, thanks to the same ethics scandal that’s plaguing her run to represent Nevada in the Senate.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released its annual “Most Corrupt” members of Congress list Wednesday, and like last year, gave Berkley a “dishonorable mention.”

“Rep. Berkley has repeatedly intervened to stop proposed cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates for nephrologists while taking thousands in campaign contributions from the renal physicians’ main political action committee, of which her husband is a former chairman,” CREW wrote in its survey. They also knocked Berkley for intervening "to save a kidney transplant program at a university hospital” when her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, had “a direct financial stake in keeping the transplant program in operation.”

The accusations are not new. And neither is the Berkley’s campaign defense against them.

“It’s unfortunate that CREW made this designation without having their facts straight,” said Berkley campaign spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa. “As it has been widely reported for months, UMC officials have stated that the contract would not have been impacted even if the transplant program had been terminated. The only reason Congresswoman Berkley joined Rep. Dean Heller to save the state’s only kidney transplant program was because 200 Nevada patients were waiting for lifesaving treatment.”

Berkley’s husband was a partner with a 9 percent stake in a practice that had the only kidney care contract with the University Medical Center, which operates the only kidney transplant facility in Las Vegas. Berkley has sponsored or co-sponsored eight bills related to kidney care, among well over 100 bills related to various other medical conditions and Medicare coverage for treatment of them.

But that defense wasn’t enough to convince the House’s Committee on Ethics not to pursue a full investigation against Berkley this summer. The investigation is still ongoing.

Republicans have been whipping her with allegations about ethical improprieties on the campaign trail ever since.

A new ad released Wednesday by the National Republican Senatorial Committee charges that Berkley “just can’t tell the truth.”

Berkley’s campaign is charging that the ad is “another attempt by Washington Republicans to distract from Senator Dean Heller’s record” on Medicare and oil subsidies.

Berkley is facing Heller in November’s Senate race. While the ethics allegations surrounding her do not appear to have had much effect on the polling in the race, which remains close, they have complicated Berkley’s efforts to win over Northern Nevadans. Berkley has never represented Northern Nevada in Congress, but needs to perform well in Washoe County in order to have a chance at winning the race.

Reports like the one CREW released Wednesday are not particularly helpful in that endeavor. But, CREW director Melanie Sloan maintains, the accusations are fair.

“I don’t know what facts they could be complaining about. The woman’s under investigation,” Sloan said of the campaign response to CREW’s report. “Of course you’re going to be on the list if you’re under investigation.”

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