Updated at: 12/20/2012 8:06 PM
By LARRY MARGASAK
(AP) WASHINGTON - Rep. Shelley Berkley violated House rules and the government’s code of conduct when she used her office to benefit her husband’s medical practice, the House Ethics Committee concluded Thursday.
The committee ended the case after adopting the findings of its investigative panel, saying no discipline was necessary because of Berkley’s cooperation. The conclusions said the Nevada Democrat made no attempt to enrich herself.
The seven-term lawmaker is retiring from the House, and narrowly lost a Senate race in November to incumbent Republican Dean Heller. The investigation was an issue in the Senate campaign, playing to voters’ distrust of Washington. National Republicans and GOP-aligned groups spent millions of dollars questioning Berkley’s character.
The committee said that in four instances from April 2008 through December 2010, her husband, Dr. Lawrence Lehrner, contacted Berkley’s congressional office to complain about problems his medical practice had in collecting payments from the Veterans Administration, Medicare or Medicaid.
Lehrner referenced specific dollar amounts that he believed those agencies owed to his practice, Kidney Specialists of Southern Nevada.
"Representative Berkley and her staff took actions in response to these issues to assist in KSSN obtaining payment," the committee said. It added that the violations occurred because these actions benefited her and could be construed as influencing the performance of her government duties.
But the committee made clear that Berkley’s motivation was proper, even though she ran afoul of standards of conduct. It found that the delayed payments by government agencies were a legitimate issue which _as Berkley publicly stated _ could result in providers deciding not to see patients under the government programs. The findings said her activities "appear to have been motivated by factors wholly divorced from her family’s financial well-being."
Nonetheless, the committee said, "she was mistaken when she applied these facts to the ethics rules and determined that her course of action was proper." The panel said the lack of any corrupt intent reduced the severity of the violation.
In a statement Thursday night, Berkley said, "The committee’s findings on this issue show I acted only in the interest of protecting Nevada veterans who needed this critical kidney care."
On a different issue, the committee found insufficient evidence that Berkley violated any rules or laws governing conflicts of interest in her attempts _ along with the Nevada delegation _ to aid a county hospital’s kidney transplant program where her husband’s practice had a contract to provide services.
"The committee could not determine the precise consequences of the kidney transplant center’s continued operations on KSSN’s existing contract and concluded that whatever those consequences, they did not factor into Rep. Berkley’s decision making at the time."
Berkley said those findings "put to rest any claims that I acted improperly in fighting for (my constituents’) health care needs."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)