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Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley under ethics review

March 23, 2012|By Lisa Mascaro
(Isaac Brekken / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — The House Ethics Committee is conducting a review of a matter involving Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada, posing a potential challenge for the Las Vegas Democrat running for Senate this fall in a closely-watched race that could determine which party controls the chamber.

The Ethics Committee acknowledged its work in a brief statement Friday as it said it would extend its inquiry into the matter that had been transmitted in February from the Office of Congressional Ethics. The committee did not disclose details and said the probe does not amount to a violation of ethics rules. It will have until July 9 to make public its findings.

Berkley came under scrutiny last fall after a report in the New York Times said that her husband’s medical practice benefitted after she led efforts to prevent a kidney transplant program at University Medical Center in Nevada from being shut down by federal regulators.

The transplant center was among the only one of its kind in the state, but its patient success record was poor. Other elected officials had also sought to help the program.

But Berkley’s husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, who had once been considered for his own run for Congress in Nevada, has a stake as a partner in a medical practice with an annual contract with the hospital. The contract was $738,000 after the intervention, the New York Times reported at the time.

Berkley is running against GOP Sen. Dean Heller this fall and the Nevada Republican Party had filed an ethics complaint with the congressional office shortly after the story appeared in September.

“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,” said Berkley campaign manager Jessica Mackler. “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.”

Nevada’s Senate race is expected to be one of the most closely watched this election cycle in the swing state that helped elect President Obama but includes GOP strongholds and a fierce independent streak that could tip toward Republicans.

Heller is seeking his first full term in the Senate after being appointed to the seat last year. A former House member and state official, Heller replaced GOP Sen. John Ensign who resigned following his own ethics problems after his parents provided funds to a former staffer with whom he had been having an affair.

Twitter.com/LisaMascaroinDC

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