Iowa trial lawyer-turned-U.S. Senate Democratic candidate Rep. Bruce Braley will again speak at a ritzy event for trial lawyers on Thursday, another sign that he is out of touch with Iowa voters, critics say.
Braley will be the keynote speaker at the New York State Trial Lawyers’ Association "Law Day 2014 Dinner" at the Hilton in New York City. Individual tickets are $285 for the event and tables cost as much as $5,500, which will come with two complimentary bottles of wine. The event is closed to the press.
Braley has been subjected to withering criticism after comments he made at a January fundraiser for trial lawyers in Texas. Braley told the lawyers that if Republicans were able to regain the Senate majority this fall, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa)—whom he has dismissed as "a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school"—would be the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Many viewed the comments as elitist in Iowa, where more than 90,000 farms are located.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) issued a press release calling on Braley’s campaign to allow media access at the event.
"Bruce Braley was caught promising out-of-state trial lawyers that he would be their voice in the Senate and Iowans have a right to know what he's now promising them behind closed doors," said NRSC press secretary Brook Hougesen. "If Bruce Braley has nothing to hide, he'll invite journalists to witness his latest closed door meeting with the powerful out-of-state trial lawyers that fund his campaign."
Braley, a four-term congressman, has accepted more than $4 million in donations from lawyers and law firms since 2005 and almost $1.2 million in the 2014 election cycle alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He has also attended trial lawyer association events in California and Virginia, among other locations across the United States.
Braley formerly served as head of the Iowa trial lawyers’ association and as a board of governors member for the American Association for Justice (AAJ), a national trial lawyers’ organization. AAJ has donated almost $60,000 to Braley since 2005.
Critics say the flood of cash from trial lawyers prompted Braley to back their positions in Congress, including pushing legislation that would have made it easier to sue medical device manufacturers, automakers, and generic drug manufacturers.
Braley’s comments about Grassley and farmers significantly hurt his standing among likely Iowa voters, according to a recent Washington Free Beacon poll. Fifty percent of those surveyed said they would be less likely to vote for him, while 21 percent said they would be more likely.
Additionally, voters said they would be less likely to vote for Braley after other actions by his campaign that were perceived as out-of-touch. A press release from the campaign misspelled basic farming terms, and Braley posted a photo of a fruit farm in England—not an Iowa farm—to his Facebook page before removing it.
The poll also found that Iraq War veteran Joni Ernst had a slight lead in the crowded GOP primary for the race.
Ernst, currently a state senator and lieutenant colonel in the Iowa Army National Guard, has criticized Braley for not advocating "Iowa values."
"Bruce Braley is courting New York City trial lawyers tonight," said Derek Flowers, spokesman for Ernst, in a statement to the Free Beacon.
"Joni Ernst is on National Guard duty today serving her country. The choice for Iowans is clear—someone who will represent Iowa values in Washington, D.C., or someone who will represent East Coast trial lawyers."
Braley’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. He has apologized for his comments about Grassley and told reporters that he "was simply pointing out that we have different life experiences."
"I have represented farmers in federal court during the Iowa farm crisis," he said. "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."