Coburn targeted in Senate ethics probe

July 29, 2008 at 2:21 PM
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WASHINGTON, July 29 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate leaders are renewing an ethics inquiry aimed at Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., for allegedly providing fiduciary benefits to a hospital, sources say.

The Hill, a Washington newspaper, says members of the Senate Ethics Committee have met several times with Coburn urging him to end his practice as an obstetrician of delivering babies free of charge for a private hospital in Muskogee, Okla. But Coburn has so far refused, the newspaper said.

Senate rules ban members from receiving compensation for practicing a profession that involves a "fiduciary" relationship. Although he receives no fee for delivering babies, some senators say Coburn's activities still provide a benefit for the hospital and thus constitutes a conflict of interest. The hospital changed from a public to a private hospital when it was purchased by Capella Healthcare in April.

The committee delivered an ultimatum to Coburn to stop, the Hill reported, but a Coburn spokesman disputed the argument.

"Just as parents don't choose him hoping to sway his vote, parents don't choose to receive his services at a particular hospital because Dr. Coburn has somehow endorsed that hospital because he is a senator," John Hart told the newspaper. "The committee has shown us zero empirical evidence to back up its flimsy claim."

Hart compared Coburn's work to U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., appearing in the movie "The Dark Knight."

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