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Posted at 02:15 PM ET, 03/23/2012

House ethics panel launches new probes of Reps. Shelley Berkley, Vern Buchanan

This post has been updated

The House Ethics Committee said Friday it has launched an investigation into allegations against Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and a fresh inquiry into Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) .


Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.). (Marlene Karas - FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The panel didn’t specify in its formal announcements what allegations against Berkley and Buchana it plans to review, but said that the Office of Congressional Ethics referred them on Feb. 9. As is customary, the committee noted that the decision to continue its probe does not itself indicate that Berkley or Buchanan violated any laws or congressional ethics rules.

Berkley, 61, is a seven-term Las Vegas congresswoman and candidate in Nevada’s closely-watched Senate race, facing Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) in a contest that many observers believe could be a pickup for Democrats. Heller succeeded former Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who resigned last year amid his own ethics investigation.

The ethics panel’s decision follows a September report by the New York Times on a series of moves by Berkley in the last five years to sponsor legislation or influence federal regulators in ways “aligned with the business interests” of her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, who operates a dozen dialysis centers in Nevada and has actively lobbied lawmakers to help kidney care providers.

In a statement, Berkley campaign manager Jessica Mackler said Friday that the lawmaker’s “only concern is for the well being of Nevada’s patients. That’s why she fought against out-of-state Washington bureaucrats from restricting patients’ access to care and why she joined fellow Reps. Jon Porter and Dean Heller to stop Nevada’s only kidney transplant program from being shut down, which would have denied life saving treatment to hundreds of Nevadans.”

The ethics panel’s new probe of Buchanan is separate from a previously announced investigation into allegations that Buchanan filed incomplete financial disclosure statements. The Justice Department and a federal grand jury in Tampa are also investigating the lawmaker’s fundraising practices.

Buchanan spokesman Max Goodman called Friday’s announcement “routine,” adding that it “says nothing at all about the merits. Rather, the Committee’s decision to take more time merely reflects its heavy workload. We are working with the Committee and are confident that, at the end of its review, the Committee will conclude that Congressman Buchanan engaged in no wrongdoing.”

Democrats have targeted Buchanan’s seat this year in light of the ongoing investigations.

Staff writer Ben Pershing contributed to this report.

Follow Ed O’Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost

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By  |  02:15 PM ET, 03/23/2012

 
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