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Ethics Committee Finds Berkley Broke House Rules

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
The House Ethics Committee announced late Thursday that Berkley broke House rules when members of her office assisted her husband’s medical practice with Medicare and Medicaid claims.

Outgoing Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., broke House rules, laws and standards of conduct related to conflicts of interest when members of her office assisted her husband’s medical practice with Veterans Affairs, Medicare and Medicaid claims, the House Ethics Committee announced late Thursday.

At the same time, the committee cleared the seven-term Nevada Democrat for actions she took to save a kidney transplant program at a hospital where her husband’s medical practice had a lucrative contract. Those actions had been at the heart of a referral the committee received from the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

The committee on Thursday released a report on the case, a report prepared by the investigative subcommittee that handled the matter, the OCE’s findings and Berkley’s response. The investigative subcommittee did not recommend that Berkley be sanctioned and could not reach a consensus on whether a formal letter of reproval should be written. The committee agreed with its recommendation that the release of the investigatory report should serve as a reproval of Berkley for her violations.

“In no small part based on Representative Berkley’s cooperative approach in this process and her candor, the Committee finds that no further action is necessary. Therefore, upon the submission of its Report to the House, the Committee considers this matter closed,” a statement from Ethics Chairman Jo Bonner, R-Ala., and ranking member Linda T. Sánchez, D-Calif., said.

“I am pleased that a decision has now been reached and I thank my family, friends and colleagues for standing beside me throughout this process,” Berkley said in a statement.

The committee’s report noted that between April 2008 and December 2010, Berkley’s husband, Dr. Lawrence Lehrner, contacted her office four times on behalf of Kidney Specialists of Southern Nevada to discuss payments his practice was due from the VA, Medicare and Medicaid. On two occasions, Berkley and her staff took actions to address those issues.

“Because such actions caused ‘compensation to accrue to the beneficial interest’ of Representative Berkley, the Committee finds that they violated [House Rules],” the committee’s report said.

The investigative subcommittee handling the case noted that there was no evidence that Berkley took action with the intent to enrich herself, and said that she had a legitimate concern that government programs should expediently reimburse medical providers and that the sort of assistance she provided her husband’s practice was similar to that which she provided to other physicians.

“The Committee takes note of the lack of any corrupt intent and believes that this mitigates the severity of the violations in question,” the joint statement said.

“Representative Berkley was entirely cooperative with the investigation, and credited her testimony both in terms of candor, and in terms of her objective lack of malicious intent in violating the rules,” the statement continued.

Berkley’s investigative subcommittee was chaired by Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, who will become the Ethics Committee chairman in the next Congress. Its ranking member was Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., and Reps. Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., were also on the subcommittee.

The investigative subcommittee recommended that a task force be convened to issue clearer guidance regarding conflicts of interest faced by House members.

“I also appreciate the Committee’s recognition of my candor and willing participation in the process and its acknowledgement that elements of the rules in question should be clarified,” Berkley said in a statement.

Berkley made an unsuccessful bid for the Senate seat held by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., earlier this year. The Office of Congressional Ethics and Ethics Committee cases related to the Nevada Democrat became an issue during her campaign.

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