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October 21, 2017

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election 2012:

Berkley continues to raise money from kidney care industry


Leila Navidi

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., attends the Memorial Day Ceremony at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City on Monday, May 28, 2012.

Berkley ethics probe

Congress announced an ethics probe into Las Vegas Congresswoman Shelley Berkley on Monday. Some say Berkley's husband, a UMC kidney doctor, allegedly benefited from Berkley's support of kidney programs at UMC.

Berkley discusses ethics probe

KSNV coverage of Rep. Shelley Berkley addressing the House ethics investigation involving her, June 9, 2012.

Rep. Shelley Berkley is facing something of a quandary in funding her U.S. Senate bid: she is returning to the same primary well of donors -- the kidney care industry -- that has triggered an ethics investigation into whether she pushed policies beneficial to the industry and her husband's medical practice.

According to a Las Vegas Sun review of Berkley’s campaign finance reports, she has collected nearly $113,000 from nephrologists, dialysis companies and other kidney care professionals since launching her Senate campaign last year.

More than half of that money came in after The New York Times published its investigation into her actions on behalf of the kidney care industry. And a substantial portion came from companies or political action companies in which her husband, Las Vegas nephrologist Dr. Larry Lehrer, has a business interest.

Democratic strategist Billy Vassiliadis said the question of accepting donations from the kidney care industry is a bit of a dilemma for the campaign. If she doesn’t accept the money, it could be read as a tacit acknowledgement that it would have undue influence, while accepting the money might be used against her in the campaign.

Democrats dismissed the fundraising as part of an old story. But Republicans questioned why she would continue to take money from an industry she is accused of doing favors for to benefit her family’s bottom line.

“If my candidate was under investigation, we’d certainly err on the side of caution and stop taking the money,” one Republican strategist said. “This isn’t something to take lightly. She’s under an ethics investigation.”

Melanie Sloan, director of the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said she sees no issue with Berkley accepting campaign money from the kidney care industry.

“The question is whether she is accepting money and doing anything in return,” Sloan said, noting the earlier contributions were timed with a specific action. “I doubt she’s doing very much for nephrologists these days.”

The House Ethics Committee announced this month it would launch a formal investigation into whether Berkley violated ethics rules with her work on behalf of kidney care. In 2008, Berkley joined the rest of the Nevada delegation to lobby to protect the only kidney transplant center in Las Vegas from being shut down by the federal government.

Berkley’s husband’s company has a contract to provide care at the center.

But Berkley also urged key lawmakers and regulators to protect Medicare reimbursement rates for dialysis. As The New York Times reported, within two days of accepting campaign contributions from some of her husband’s business associates, she wrote a letter to the chairman of the committee overseeing Medicare reimbursements urging him to be careful while considering rate changes.

While those campaign contributions involved her congressional campaign, Berkley continues to raise a significant amount of money from her husband’s industry.

DaVita, which operates thousands of dialysis centers across the country, is the fourth largest contributor to Berkley’s Senate campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The company has given more than $50,000 to Berkley’s Senate campaign, including $25,000 after the Times published its investigation.

Lehrner runs seven dialysis clinics in a joint venture with DaVita.

Vassiliadis acknowledged that the sheer amount of money from the kidney care industry — relative to the amount from other industries — could become an issue.

“It’s a legitimate point,” he said, of the fact DaVita is her fourth largest contributor and that more than a third of her money from the medical profession is from kidney care specialists.

Sloan pointed out that her husband’s business associates are a natural constituency to raise money from because of the existing relationships.

Berkley’s campaign spokeswoman, Xochitl Hinojosa, said Berkley is “proud of the wide range of support she’s received from all over Nevada.”

“Her one and only motivation has always been for her constituents and ensuring that they have the best representation in Congress no matter what the issue is.”

Hinojosa then noted that Berkley’s Republican opponent, Dean Heller, has accepted a significant amount of money from the oil industry while often voting in the industry’s interest.

“Heller has taken more than $154,000 during the 2012 election cycle from big oil companies and more than $337,000 from Wall Street corporations after voting repeatedly to protect tax breaks for big oil executives and corporations that ship jobs overseas and opposing Wall Street reform,” she said.

Heller is not under an ethics investigation.

“Dean Heller authored legislation to close tax loopholes for oil companies and lower the gas tax for Nevadans,” his spokeswoman, Chandler Smith, said. “The congresswoman’s attacks are sad and desperate.”

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