Ethics Committee to investigate Rep. Shelley Berkley

The House Ethics Committee announced Monday that it will formally investigate Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) over allegations she violated House rules by using her position in Congress to benefit her husband’s medical practice.

The decision could have serious repercussions for her Senate bid. She is challenging incumbent Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Republicans have hammered her repeatedly on the issue.

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Polls have shown a close race in the important swing state, and the outcome of the race could determine which party controls the upper chamber next year.

The allegations have battered her campaign against Heller, as American Crossroads, a GOP super-PAC, has sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into attacks on Berkley’s ethical record, forcing her to air responsive ads in her defense.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) promptly issued a statement on the investigation.

“It speaks volumes that even Shelley Berkley’s Democrat colleagues unanimously voted to move forward investigating Berkley’s use of her office to enrich her and her husband," said NRSC executive director Rob Jesmer. "Since Berkley entered the political arena we’ve seen a long pattern of ethical questions surrounding her conduct. Nevadans deserve someone in the Senate who they can trust to work on their behalf and not someone — like Ms. Berkley — who puts her own financial and political interests first.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reiterated its support for Berkley.

“Shelley Berkley is a proven fighter for her constituents and a proven winner on the campaign trail, and our support for her campaign remains as strong as ever," said DSCC executive director Guy Cecil in a statement. "Voters will certainly recognize that Shelley always puts the needs of Nevadans first whether she was working to create jobs or to save the only kidney transplant center in the state. What voters will not forgive is Dean Heller’s support for essentially ending Medicare and forcing seniors to pay more than $6,000 more for their health care."

The ethics panel will examine allegations about a liver transplant program Berkley pushed to keep open. Berkley’s husband is one of the state’s premier liver transplant doctors.

Berkley has maintained her innocence and balked at the charges, saying that the kidney transplant program was vital to keeping Nevadans healthy and that she was not motivated by personal or professional gain for her husband’s medical practice.

A spokeswoman for Berkley’s campaign applauded the panel's investigation and said it would eventually find her not guilty of violating House rules.

“We are pleased with the committee’s decision to conduct a full and fair investigation, which will ensure all the facts are reviewed,” said Jessica Mackler, campaign manager for Berkley. “We are confident that ultimately it will be clear that Congresswoman Berkley’s one and only concern was for the health and well-being of Nevada’s patients.”

The Ethics Committee announced in March it would be postponing its decision on the allegations until after the June primaries in Nevada, which Berkley easily won.

By forming an investigative subcommittee, the Ethics Committee is granted subpoena power in order to compel witnesses to testify.

The committee is probing more than a half-dozen lawmakers at the moment, including two full investigations. And though the secretive panel does not have a firm deadline for its completion of the Berkley investigation, it remains to be seen whether the subcommittee will have the resources necessary to reach a verdict in the next four months, before Election Day.

The Office of Congressional Ethics referred the matter to the Ethics panel after an article in The New York Times last year spurred state Republicans to file a complaint. The article suggested that Berkley had pushed for higher Medicare reimbursement rates, which would benefit her husband’s practice.

After reviewing the report from the OCE, the committee stated on Monday that it voted on June 29 to form the investigative subcommittee, which “does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

Reps. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Donna Edwards (D-Md.) were chosen to be the respective chairman and ranking member of the subcommittee. Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) will also serve on the investigative body. 

Berkley told the Las Vegas Review Journal last month that her winning the Senate race was not contingent on the final verdict of the Ethics Committee’s preliminary probe.

“The campaign isn't going to pivot on that," she told the paper. “[The campaign will focus on] what are we going to do to get people back to work.”

— This story was last updated at 6:55 p.m.