On the defense over ethics problems, Democratic U.S. Rep. Shelley Berkley on Thursday struck back with a new TV ad (below) that blames her GOP opponent U.S. Sen. Dean Heller for a partisan attack.
In the ad, Berkley notes the Nevada Republican Party filed the initial ethics complaint questioning her advocacy for a Las Vegas kidney transplant center where her physician husband has a business interest. And the ad slams Heller for "actually attacking Berkley for trying to stop cuts to Medicare coverage for hundreds of thousands of patients nationwide."
What the ad doesn't say is the House Ethics Committee is investigating whether Berkley worked to keep Medicare reimbursement rates up to help her husband and other doctors financially. And the ad doesn't mention the fact that all five Democrats on the House panel joined all five Republicans in voting to open a formal investigation into the matter.
Eric Herzik, a political science professor at the University of Nevada-Reno, said Berkley is smart to go on the attack because she has no other choice.
"That's a classic defense strategy," Herzik said. "You say the attack is a political smear job. Her problem, though, is Dean Heller didn't bring this up. And it was a unanimous vote by Democrats and Republicans to further the investigation. That undercuts her argument that it's a partisan attack, that those mean old Republicans are out to get me."
The ethics investigation also hurts Berkley's chances in the close Senate race just as voters outside of Clark County are getting to know the seven-term congresswoman, Herzik said.
The House Ethics Committee announced on Monday it would open an investigation into whether Berkley should have disclosed her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, has a partnership interest in the kidney transplant center at the University Medical Center that she helped save. Heller, too, successfully lobbied to keep the center open.
The ethics investigation also is looking at Berkley's separate efforts to preserve Medicare payments to kidney doctors, including by sending a letter to U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif. The New York Times first reported Berkley's kidney care advocacy last September. The Nevada Republican Party then filed a formal complaint, setting the ethics case in motion.
In Berkley's new 30-second TV ad, the narrator noted an editorial in the Las Vegas Sun said Berkley's advocacy "wasn't driven for personal gain, it was aimed at helping Nevadans." That echoes what Berkley herself has told reporters when asked why she fought to keep the center open and Medicare reimbursement rates for kidney care high.
The Berkley ad then pivots to slam Heller for twice voting "to end Medicare as we know it," a Democratic charge against Republicans who want to privatize the program for younger workers.
"You decide who's for you," the ad ends.
Berkley also released a second new TV ad on the Medicare issue that focuses on Heller's Medicare votes as well.
Heller himself has not commented on Berkley's ethics problems. But his campaign on Wednesday aired a new TV ad (below) criticizing Berkley in the ethics case. The ad notes Berkley was named in a report by an ethics watchdog group as one of the "most corrupt members of Congress."
"Shelley Berkley took care of herself and she got caught," the Heller ad says.
On Thursday, the Heller campaign accused Berkley of trying to mislead voters with the ads.
"How about the truth, congresswoman?" said Chandler Smith, spokesman for Heller's campaign. "For the first time since 2009, a bipartisan committee of five Democrats and five Republicans unanimously decided Congresswoman Berkley's actions required a formal investigation on the basis of a non-partisan report In the very same ad she asks for the 'truth,' Shelley Berkley desperately tries to shift blame and repeats Politifact's Lie of the Year over and over again. No matter how much she may want to distract from her own problems, Congresswoman Berkley's ethics troubles do not give her a free pass to lie to Nevadans."