Iowa Democratic Senate candidate Bruce Braley is out with a new ad this week touting his career as a lawyer as he continues to face criticism for his ties to the national trial lawyers’ lobby.
Braley’s campaign is spending at least $70,000 on the new 30-second TV ad this week, according to a report by Roll Call. Republicans pounced on Braley in late March after a video surfaced of him disparaging Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) as a "farmer from Iowa who never went to law school," comments that many viewed as elitist in the farm-heavy state.
Braley later apologized for his remarks made at a January fundraiser with trial lawyers in Texas, one of several trial lawyers’ association events he has attended across the country. Lawyers and law firms have donated more than $4.1 million to Braley throughout his career as a four-term congressman and almost $1.2 million so far this cycle—the second-most of any candidate, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The American Association for Justice (AAJ), the national lobbying heavyweight for trial lawyers, is Braley’s third-largest career contributor with almost $60,000 in donations.
Braley says in the ad that "equal justice under the law is what this country is built upon" and is "one of the things that motivated me to want to become a lawyer and fight for people."
"You have to get to know people to be an effective voice for what they care about," he says. "I’ve spent my lifetime trying to be the voice for someone who has a problem that they can’t solve by themselves."
However, critics say Braley has previously advocated against cost-saving measures such as medical malpractice damage caps at the behest of the trial lawyers’ lobby.
Braley voted against a failed motion in 2009 that would have been attached to the House version of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama’s signature health care legislation. He encouraged lawmakers on the House floor not to vote for the motion that would have limited attorney fees in malpractice lawsuits and the awarding of damages in certain cases.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected in 2009 that medical liability or tort reform could reduce federal budget deficits by about $54 billion in a decade. Proponents of reform also say that it would reduce health care costs for patients by lowering premiums for medical liability insurance and the use of some services.
Additionally, Braley has pushed legislation that would have made it easier to sue medical device manufacturers, automakers, and generic drug manufacturers.
Braley noted at the January fundraiser that he had been "literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way" unlike Grassley, who could become the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee if Republicans obtain a majority in the chamber this fall.
"Bruce Braley, Esq. was caught in a rare unscripted moment expressing his true feelings about farmers and promising out-of-state trial lawyers that he would be their bag man in the U.S. Senate," said Brook Hougesen, press secretary for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), in a press release. "That's not surprising, since Bruce Braley, Esq. has been doing that throughout his career. Why should we expect anything different if he is elected to the Senate?"
Previous ads supporting Braley have raised eyebrows because of their funding sources.
Senate Majority PAC, a Super PAC run by former aides for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), has spent more than half a million on ads supporting Braley since January, according to campaign finance records. The trial lawyers’ group AAJ donated $200,000 to Senate Majority PAC in the same quarter.
Braley’s campaign denied that it coordinated with AAJ to funnel money for ads through Senate Majority PAC, which would be illegal.
Braley’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Braley will square off in the general election against the winner of the June 3 Republican primary. State senator and Iraq War veteran Joni Ernstholds a double-digit lead over Mark Jacobs, a former Texas energy company CEO, according to the latest polling.
Ernst campaign spokesman Derek Flowers said she is "fighting to earn our party’s nomination and for the opportunity to present Iowans with a clear choice win in the fall—a liberal trial lawyer who has insulted all Iowa farmers versus a mom, farm girl, and Lieutenant Colonel."
Jacobs spokeswoman Alissa Ohl offered a similar message:
"Bruce Braley and Harry Reid's liberal special interest groups will spend infinite amounts of money trying to recast Bruce Braley, but the fact remains that he already offered Iowa's Senate seat up for sale to the trial lawyers. On and off camera, he's made it clear that he stands with trial lawyers and not hardworking Iowa families."