Iowa Democrat Bruce Braley, a Senate candidate who recently criticized a fellow senator for lacking a law degree, has a long history of advocating the interests of trial lawyers, according to a Washington Free Beacon analysis.
Braley is a four-time congressman and former trial lawyer running to replace retiring Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa).
He generated widespread criticism after telling a group of trial lawyers at a January fundraiser that he would be their “voice” in Congress, adding that he was “someone who's been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way.” Braley also noted that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who he described as “a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school,” could be the next chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee if Republicans retake the Senate majority in this fall’s elections.
Many viewed the comments as elitist in Iowa, where more than 90,000 farms are located. Braley later apologized and said he was “trying to convey that we have different life experiences and backgrounds."
Republicans pounced on Braley’s comments as a vulnerability.
"Bruce Braley's comments are so devastating because they were purposeful and an honest reflection of his belief that trial lawyers know best," said Brook Hougesen, press secretary for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). "Voters who support frivolous lawsuits and abuses of the court system will naturally side with Bruce Braley, but most Iowans prefer a candidate who puts our workers, farmers, and families first.”
Braley’s biography and other records reveal that he has consistently attempted to advance the interests of trial lawyers throughout his career.
Braley obtained his law degree from the University of Iowa’s law school before eventually joining the firm Dutton, Braun, Staack, and Hellman in Waterloo, Iowa.
While employed as an attorney at the firm, Braley penned a 1998 op-ed with the headline, “Lawyers are victims of latest hate campaign.”
Braley decried a campaign by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that sought to limit awards for noneconomic damages in worker lawsuits against businesses, which critics say can be costly for companies and harmful to consumers in some cases.
“Because I am a trial lawyer this attack is aimed directly at me and the clients I represent,” he wrote in Idaho’s Moscow-Pullman Daily News. “Because you buy goods and services from businesses which support the U.S. Chamber, you are helping finance this campaign of hatred, whether you like it or not.”
“The more money that the U.S. Chamber and its constituent members pour into this attack, the more it will cost you for the privilege of hating me,” he added.
Braley later served as president of the Iowa Association for Justice from 2003 to 2004, a group that includes trial attorneys as members.
He was first elected to Congress in 2006 and has received more than $4 million in contributions from lawyers and law firms since 2005, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Braley has already collected more than $1 million from them this election cycle, the second-most among all lawmakers.
Critics say Braley has sought to ensure his legal contributors reap a return on their investment.
Legislation he co-sponsored in 2009 would have stripped legal immunity from medical device manufacturers with products that received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.
Additionally, Braley drafted a 2010 measure that would have made it easier for consumers to sue carmakers with vehicles that comply with federal safety standards.
He also co-sponsored legislation in 2012—backed by the trial lawyers group American Association for Justice (AAJ)—that would have increased regulations on generic drug manufacturers, in opposition to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling granting them more legal protections. Braley has received $14,000 in contributions from AAJ so far this cycle, third-most among all lawmakers.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) previously estimated that tort reform for medical liability lawsuits could reduce as much as $54 billion from the federal budget deficit by 2019. Braley lobbied against proposed caps on medical malpractice lawsuits at the Iowa state legislature while serving as head of the Iowa trial attorneys’ association.
Derek Flowers, spokesman for Republican candidate Joni Ernst, said in a statement to the Washington Free Beacon that Braley does not represent “Iowa values.”
“Bruce Braley’s time in Congress has been bought and paid for by trial attorneys and his voting record proves it,” he said. “Not only did he insult Iowa farmers and Senator Grassley, but he did it while campaigning in front of a group of trial lawyers in Texas. Bruce Braley doesn’t represent Iowa values, he represents trial lawyers and the frivolous lawsuits that helped pay for his way to Congress.”
Ernst, an Iraq War veteran and mother of three, has emerged as the leading Republican contender for the Senate seat in a crowded GOP primary.
Braley’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
He previously told the Des Moines Register: “I have represented farmers in federal court during the Iowa farm crisis. A farmer from Butler County. I don't think Sen. Grassley had that life experience. It's just a simple difference of who we are and where we've come from."
Braley will be the keynote speaker at the New York State Trial Lawyers Association’s “Law Day 2014” on May 1.