Nevada Democrat's Family Ties Raise Ethical Questions

Tuesday, 06 Sep 2011 03:29 PM

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Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nevada, helped lead an effort to save the kidney transplant program at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas when federal regulators moved to shut it down because of high failure rates. The successful campaign also ended up aiding Berkley’s husband, a doctor whose nephrology practice directs medical services at the hospital’s kidney care department, The New York Times reported.

The move was one of a series in which she intervened either with regulators or through legislation in matters that coincided with the business interests of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner. Lehrner operates a dozen dialysis centers in Nevada, and Rep. Berkley has co-sponsored at least five House bills that would aide kidney care, written letters to regulators that would benefit kidney care centers and appeared at fund-raisers sponsored by a group her husband has helped run, the Times reported.

“This is a very serious conflict of interest,” said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.

“There is an official use of power here to help him and the family — and I think that is unethical,” Thurber told the Times.

Berkley, who declined to be interviewed, said in a statement that she was an advocate for a broad range of health care causes and had never acted specifically to help her husband’s practice. “I won’t stop fighting to give Nevadans access to affordable health care just because my husband is a doctor, just like I won’t stop standing up for veterans because my father served in World War II,” she said according to the Times.

Berkley is running for the Senate seat that John Ensign held until his resignation in April.


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