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July 6, 2015

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election 2012:

Line of Attack: Does Shelley Berkley have a history of public corruption?

Editor’s note: Line of Attack is a weekly feature in which we parse a political attack, looking at the strategy behind it, how the campaign is delivering it and what facts support or refute it. We’ll assign it a rating on the fairness meter: Legit, Eye Roll, Guffaw, Laughable or Outrageous.

Attack:Democrat Shelley Berkley has a history of public corruption. In short, it’s not just the latest investigation by the House ethics committee that mars Berkley’s record.

Method of Delivery: Berkley’s Republican opponent Dean Heller unleashed his harshest indictment yet of Berkley’s ethics problems in a television spot last week. Conveniently, the ad coincides with a similar one released last week by the independent conservative group Crossroads GPS, meaning the airwaves are now saturated with the attack.

Strategy: The ad reads almost like a closing argument for the campaign, connecting the still unresolved ethics investigation with a previous ethics scandal from the late 1990s in an attempt to convince voters that Berkley is at her core unethical.

Fairness Meter: Heller’s ad delivers each attack with the confidence-inducing label: Fact. And, indeed, each facts he uses is incontrovertible. Berkley did pen a memo to her then boss Las Vegas Sands owner Sheldon Adelson advising him to contribute to judges and bestow favors on county commissioners for favorable treatment. She apologized for the behavior in 1998 amid a very public and ugly fight with Adelson during her first run for Congress. She won that election.

And, as Heller’s ad mentions, Adelson did fire Berkley, though it wasn’t necessarily in connection with the memo. The two had an ugly falling out as their political philosophies collided and Adelson became more involved in campaigns.

Leading viewers to believe she was fired for the memos isn’t exactly fair.

It’s also true, and well publicized, that Berkley is the subject of an ethics investigation into whether she advocated for health policies that might benefit her husband, a well-known kidney doctor in Las Vegas.

But the ultimate conclusion of the ad, that Berkley has a “history of public corruption” is, at this point, unfounded. An investigation doesn’t equal a conviction. And neither of these cases has resulted in one yet.

So, while it’s legit to raise the facts, the ultimate conclusion that Berkley is guilty of public corruption gets a Guffaw.

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