The House Ethics Committee has voted unanimously to empanel an investigative subcommittee to look into allegations that Rep. Shelley Berkley, Nevada Democrat, used her congressional position to help her husband's business interests.
The committee's announcement Monday of its June 29 vote would appear to be bad news for Mrs. Berkley, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat now held by incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Republican.
The four-member subcommittee is to determine whether Mrs. Berkley violated any laws, regulations, House rules or standards of conduct in the performance of her duties "with respect to alleged communications and activities with or on behalf of entities" in which her husband had a financial interest, the committe's top two members said in a statement.
The announcement was made by Rep. Jo Bonner, Alabama Republican, who chairs the ethics committee, and Rep. Linda T. Sanchez of California, the panel's ranking Democrat.
The ethics committee, with five Democrats and five Republicans, has been looking into the congresswoman's successful efforts to keep a kidney- transplant program at a Nevada hospital from being shut down by federal regulators, her campaign manager, Jessica Mackler, said earlier this year.
Mrs. Berkley's physician husband, Dr. Lawrence Lehrner, has business ties to the hospital, University Medical Center (UMC) in Las Vegas, and his medical practice is paid $738,000 a year to direct medical services for the hospital's kidney care department, according to a September 2011 article in the New York Times.
"We are pleased with the committee's decision to conduct a full and fair investigation, which will ensure all the facts are reviewed," Ms. Mackler said. "With more than 200 Nevada patients desperately waiting for a lifesaving kidney transplant, it would have been irresponsible of her not to work with the state's entire congressional delegation to protect the program."
The Ethics Committee received a referral in February from the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE), which said it found "substantial reason" to believe the allegations against Mrs. Berkley, a seven-term congresswoman. The OCE had begun its investigation after receiving a complaint from the Nevada Republican Party.
Mrs. Berkley and her husband's business dealings already have become an issue in the campaign. A conservative super PAC, American Crossroads, headed by former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove, spent $ 346,582 in June to run ads claiming Mrs. Berkley "makes the system work for herself," adding that she "twisted arms to get federal dollars for her husband's business, a blatant conflict of interest." But the non-partisan FactCheck.org said the ad relied "on twisted facts." It said Mrs. Berkley's husband was among many who benefited, and her efforts were supported by the entire Nevada congressional delegation.
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