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Opinion: Columnists

Iowa Senate candidate's true loyalty is to his fellow trial lawyers

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Opinion,David Freddoso,Columnists,Senate,Iowa,2014 Elections,Trial Lawyers,Magazine

No politician from Iowa wants to be caught on tape rubbishing his state as a backwater and savaging its most popular politician. But this is Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley's nightmare week, which could conceivably derail his campaign for Iowa's open Senate seat.

“If you help me win this race,” he told a crowd of wealthy trial lawyers at an out-of-state fundraiser, “you may have someone with your background, your experience, your voice -- someone who's been literally fighting tort reform for 30 years in a visible and public way on the Senate Judiciary Committee.” But if the Republicans won the Senate majority, he added, “you might have a farmer from Iowa who never went to law school, never practiced law, serving as the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Braley was referring to his state's other senator -- the beloved Republican Chuck Grassley - with whom he would serve in the Senate if elected.

The way Braley phrased it, you'd think Iowa farmers are especially goofy bumpkins and particularly hopeless compared to their agricultural colleagues in other states. So obviously, this isn't his best hour.

But forget about Braley's insult to his entire state, its farmers, and its most popular politician. Instead, think about the well-heeled crowd he was, as one Republican opponent put it, “sucking up to.”

Just who was Braley promising to represent and fight for in Washington? It wasn't Iowans, of course. It was trial lawyers — those captains of the nation's lawsuit industry, who buy influence in Washington and state capitols in hopes of making and keeping courts at all levels as lawsuit-friendly as possible.

In 2011, the Washington Examiner conducted a detailed analysis of just the top 110 plaintiffs' firms in America. It showed that their employees and partners had given $7.3 million to political campaigns during the 2010 cycle. Ninety-seven percent of the money went to Democrats - and the remaining 3 percent was split evenly between Charlie Crist of Florida (an independent candidate for Senate that year, and a trial lawyer by trade) and all Republicans. The political action committee of the American Association for Justice, the trial lawyers' top trade group, was equally friendly to Democrats, giving the party and its candidates 97 percent of AAJ's $2.7 million in 2010 contributions.

And of course, that's counting only federal hard-money contributions from a small portion of a wealthy group that is usually more concerned with state laws.

Braley, a former president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers' Association, is correct when he tells these out-of-state donors that he has represented their interests well. He spent his freshman term on the Small Business Committee fighting small businesses -- speaking out when needed against policies that would make frivolous lawsuits against them more difficult.

Trial lawyers needed someone in Congress to help keep serious lawsuit reforms out of Obamacare. When the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that such reforms could save the federal government $54 billion over 10 years just on its own government-run health care programs, Braley was there to challenge and cast aspersions on the agency's research.

When Congress considered an automotive safety bill in 2010, Braley tried to insert a provision that would have allowed state court juries to overrule federal regulators on the question of whether automotive designs were defective. The idea was to make sure that, no matter who was really at fault in an accident, the deepest pockets possible would be vulnerable to a lawsuit and a jury's emotional reaction to horrific injuries. To that same end, Braley's language also would have let people sue rental car companies for injuries caused by renters' negligent driving.

The question for Iowans will be whether they want to elect someone so condescending who also has a second and possibly conflicting obligation -- to represent the lawyers who advertise on late-night television and sue for a percentage of the recovery. Thanks to Braley's indiscretion, that fact will be widely known by November.

DAVID FREDDOSO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is the former Editorial Page Editor for the Examiner and the New York Times-bestselling author of "Spin Masters: How the Media Ignored the Real News and Helped Re-elect Barack Obama." He has also written two other books, "The Case Against Barack Obama" (2008) and "Gangster Government" (2011).
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