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Rep. Berkley’s lame defense

Partisan spinning aside, what the House Ethics Committee did last week will leave a mark on the reputation of Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. And she only has herself to blame.

She set this ethics trap herself when she stupidly (and in saying that I give her the benefit of the doubt) wielded her influence in ways that lined her own pockets.

The Ethics Committee voted unanimously last week to form a subcommittee to formally investigate the actions of Rep. Berkley.

The committee declined to release the fact-finding report against Berkley, using the boilerplate phrase that “the mere fact of establishing an investigative subcommittee does not itself indicate that any violation has occurred.”

Rep. Berkley and her acolytes glommed onto that line in hopes of leading voters to think that when the final report comes in she’ll be off the hook. That’s like thinking that when a kid is caught smoking dope at school, her mother’s initial statement, “Wait until your father comes home,” means leniency is just around the corner.

Truth is that when the House Ethics Committee extended the probe into Berkley, it meant investigators found reason to proceed against her.

The New York Times broke the initial story, reporting that over the past five years Rep. Berkley had actively and aggressively used her influence as a House member in ways that benefited the kidney transplant program and dialysis centers in Nevada.

Exhibit A: Berkley’s husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, has a very lucrative contract with University Medical Center in Las Vegas to provide kidney care, and he has a medical practice that owns dialysis centers.

Exhibit B: Berkley lobbied colleagues with jurisdiction over Medicare, pushing for no reduction in reimbursement rates for dialysis.

Both actions boosted her bank account. Of that there is zero doubt.

Berkley told the Las Vegas Sun: “I am absolutely convinced that when this investigation is finished, there’s only one decision that the committee can possibly reach, and that was my only concern was for the health and well-being of the people I represent.”

Which is a rationalization to say that if others benefitted, too, then there’s no harm.

It’s a scoundrel’s defense for enrichment, used since the beginning of time. She should have – and easily could have – stayed away from the UMC transplant issue and let her colleagues carry the ball. Her conflict of interest demanded it. Yet, throughout all of it, she never disclosed her profound conflict and undisputed personal gain.

Therein lies the rub. And that’s all on her.

Jobless rate: 22.9 percent

The oft-used unemployment number is the U-3 number, which in June stood at 8.2 percent. U-3 counts current jobs held, gained and lost.

But the real number – if you really care about unemployed Americans – is a number the federal government stopped calculating in 1994. That number takes into account all people looking for work – both those recently out of work and those out of work (but looking) for a long time.

That number stood at a shocking 22.9 percent in June.

We are a long way from employment health.

Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.lvrj.com/blogs/sherm.

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