Shelly Berkley, the Democratic Congressman who's running against Republican Dean Heller for the Senate seat in Nevada, can't seem to shake a growing litany of ethics charges. Her Republican opponent and conservative Super PACs are doing everything possible to remind Nevada voters that the recent Congressional ethics probe of Berkley isn't the only public question to be brought about her character.
Last week, Crossroads, the Karl Rove managed Super PAC, launched a devastating thirty second television ad that highlighted a 1997 incident in which Berkley appeared to advise her then boss, casino magnate Sheldon Adleson, to bribe local judges. As the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported:
The superPAC's 30-second spot (video below) says the current House investigation of the Las Vegas congresswoman over allegations of health care conflicts "is not surprising," as it aims to pencil in a straight line back 14 years.
That's when Berkley served as a vice president for legal and governmental affairs at Las Vegas Sands Inc., working for chairman Sheldon Adelson as the casino magnate was building his flagship Venetian resort on the Strip.
"Before she came to Congress, Berkley urged her boss at a Vegas casino to buy off judges and politicians with favors and campaign cash," the ad's narrator says over visuals of glitzy neon and bright colors edited in the breezy style of the "Ocean's Eleven" remake.
"Wrong then, wrong now. A disturbing pattern of unethical behavior," the ad states.
The attack has its roots in a Berkley-Adelson relationship that went sour and has gotten only more so between the Democratic lawmaker and the Republican mogul who, in this campaign year, has become the most generous campaign donor to GOP candidates. Adelson has suggested he is willing to spend up to $100 million to elect Republicans.
Back in 1997 Berkley was fired by Adelson. As she was running in her first race for Congress, Adelson spent heavily to defeat her.
The national perception that Harry Reid's Democratic political machine in Nevada is corrupt is reenforced by the long list of ethics charges brought against Berkley since this 1997 incident. Last month, the House of Representatives launched a formal ethics investigation on new charges, as CNN reported:
Berkley is facing questions about whether her efforts to block a federal agency from closing a kidney transplant center at a Las Vegas hospital conflicted with congressional ethics rules. Her husband, Dr. Larry Lehrner, is a nephrologist and had a contract with the University Medical Center.
Ethics Committee Chairman Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Alabama, issued a joint statement with the panel's top Democrat, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-California, that stated the committee voted unanimously to create an investigative subcommittee "to determine whether Rep. Shelley Berkley violated the Code of Official Conduct or any law, rule, regulation or other applicable standard of conduct in the performance of her duties or the discharge of her responsibilities, with respect to alleged communications and activities with or on behalf of entities in which Rep. Berkley's husband had a financial interest."
Most political observers seem to think that Berkley can't overcome the weight of these charges without the brute force of Reid's operatives. But increasingly many of these experts are beginning to believe that a possible Berkley loss in November could hurt Reid as well. As Reuters and the Huffington Post reported:
Harry Reid's future as U.S. Senate majority leader may hinge on whether fellow Nevada Democrat Shelley Berkley can survive an ethics probe involving her kidney doctor husband's businesses.
The House of Representatives Ethics Committee announced in July it was investigating Berkley, a seven-term congresswoman, over whether some of her actions as a legislator were meant to benefit her husband financially.
The news comes at a bad time for Berkley, who is locked in one of the country's closest Senate races against Dean Heller, even before news of the ethics probe. Polls since have shown her trailing the Republican ahead of the November 6 election.
Heller, a former congressman and Nevada secretary of state, has a higher statewide profile than Berkley and the benefit of incumbency. He was appointed to the Senate seat in May 2011 to replace fellow Republican John Ensign, who resigned after a sex scandal.
Berkley is known as a tireless campaigner, but she is not well-known across Nevada and risks having the ethics probe being the main reason voters know her outside of her Las Vegas-area district.
"If that's the first and the last thing people say about Shelley Berkley, she's in trouble," said Eric Herzik, chairman of the political science department at the University of Nevada in Reno. "She certainly has some major damage control to do."
Reid, Nevada's senior senator, is the major force in state Democratic politics. He survived a tough re-election race of his own in 2010 against Republican Sharron Angle and has thrown his organization behind Berkley.
Reid will be replaced as Senate majority leader if the Democrats lose their slim four-seat edge in the Senate, and the Nevada seat could be a key. . .
"If she wins, it will be because of the Democratic machine that Harry Reid created ... because she's not going to do it on her own," Nevada political expert Jon Ralston said.
With so much at stake nationally for both parties, look for more money to continue to pour into this race between now and the election. Republicans will continue to remind Nevada voters of the numerous ethics charges against Berkley, who for her part, is still searching for a credible counter attack.
Michael Patrick Leahy is a Breitbart News contributor, Editor of Broadside Books’ Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, and author of Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement.