Ethics investigation could affect key Senate race in Nevada

We’ve been following the hotly contested Nevada Senate race between incumbent Republican Dean Heller (appointed to fill John Ensigh’s seat) and Democratic challenger Rep. Shelley Berkley. Early polls gave Heller a fairly healthy lead, but the race seemed to tighten in late May. The most recent poll I’ve seen (by PPP about a month ago) had Heller with an insignificant 44-43 lead.

But now the House Ethics Committee has voted unanimously to launch a formal investigation into allegations that Berkley used her position to benefit the interests of her husband. The husband, Larry Lehrner, operates dialysis centers in Nevada and has lobbied for aid to kidney care providers. Berkely is alleged to have engaged in activities that favored this interest.

The Office of Congressional Ethics issued a report on the allegations against Berkley. The report hasn’t been made public, but the unamious decision to proceed with an investigation presumably means that the report was adverse to Berkley and that the Committee finds, at least preliminarily, that the report has merit.

Thus, as the Las Vegas Sun explains, “[an] inquiry that stood at least a chance of being dismissed as a political witch hunt now ranks among the most serious investigations of alleged ethical offenses taking place this Congress.” Moreover, the investigation probably won’t be completed before the November election.

What is the likely impact of the investigation on the Senate race? One Nevada political science professor says:

It’s certainly not good news, and with a unanimous vote [including Democrats], it becomes even worse news. Heller doesn’t even have to do anything … so this is a pretty severe blow. She was going to have damage control to do anyway; now the damage is even worse.

Give Berkley credit for candor, however. Asked whether she hopes that the investigation is concluded before the election, she responded: “I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going to happen.” I like that better than “I look forward to a speedy resolution and am confident that I will be cleared of these frivolous charges.”

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