Nevada GOP files ethics complaint v. Rep. Berkley

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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The Nevada Republican Party has filed a complaint with the Office of Congressional Ethics against Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley for conflict of interests, following a New York Times article that reported on efforts by the congresswoman to intervene in issues from which her husband would profit.

The specific instance sited in the complaint is Berkley’s intervention to prevent the shutdown of a kidney transplant program with a high mortality rate at University Medical Center. Berkley successfully kept the facility open, and her husband, a kidney doctor, got a $738,000 per year contract with the hospital.

Additionally the complaint attacks Berkley for having accepted campaign money from her husband’s industry PAC, and at the same time having “repeatedly taken direct action on behalf of her husband’s financial interests.”

“It’s deeply troubling that Congresswoman Berkley would use her position of public trust to enrich her own family and campaign at taxpayer expense, and that it took her ten days since this behavior was exposed by the press to even acknowledge it,” said Nevada Republican Party (NRP) Chairwoman Amy Tarkanian. “Nevadans deserve to know the truth: 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?”

In an interview with the Las Vegas Review Journal, Berkley said that at the time, “I recognized that it may not look great, but I would not have been able to live with myself” by not acting.” She added that if she had it to do over again, “I would make sure it was crystal clear, and I would make sure I would work doubly hard to ensure that everybody I was talking to knew the situation. I thought they did.”

Berkley is running for the U.S. Senate in 2012, for the seat previously held by John Ensign before he stepped down in the face of ethics investigations. Dean Heller, Berkley’s 2012 opponent, was appointed to fill the seat for the duration of Ensign’s term. (RELATED: CREW names most corrupt members of Congress, critics raise questions)

Berkley’s campaign manager Jessica Mackler slammed the complaint as “hypocritical” and politically motivated.

“Given Dean Heller’s record of taking money from Big Oil before doing their bidding in Washington, this is nothing more than a hypocritical smear campaign by the Republican Party. They can play all the political games they want, but Shelley Berkley will always fight for sick patients while Heller is fighting for the oil executives padding his pocket,” Mackler said.

Calling the complaint a “hypocritical stunt,” the Nevada Democratic Party fired back with a web video attacking Heller, alleging that he engaged in “pay-to-play” politics, taking money from oil companies and, in turn, voting in their favor. The video specifically targets Heller for a fundraiser held by The Alpine group — a lobbying firm that had BP as a client — in his honor. Later that month, Heller “voted against removed tax breaks for oil companies,” a newscaster repeats several times in the video.

“Given Dean Heller’s track record of siding with Big Oil days after taking their money, the Nevada Republicans’ stunt should be seen for what it is: Blatantly political and shockingly hypocritical,” said Nevada State Democratic Party spokesperson Zach Hudson. “The facts are clear: Big Oil’s CEOs are getting what they paid for in Dean Heller’s pay-to-play scheme to protect taxpayer giveaways to oil companies. However, considering who he replaced in the Senate, it seems only fitting that Dean Heller would continue his predecessor’s record of cheating on Nevadans.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog organization, has issued mixed comments on Berkley’s actions, notes Steve Sebelius at Slash Politics.

Melanie Sloan, founder and executive director of CREW, told the Associated Press the day the article was published, “I think going to bat for the hospital [UMC], it’s really hard for me to see that as a big conflict.”

However, Berkley is also a “dishonorable mention” on CREW’s Most Corrupt list, and the report sites the complaints leveled by the Nevada Republican Party.

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