The Iowa Democratic Party has been ordered to pay a huge fine for running an attack ad against a Republican candidate in a ruling that could have implications nationwide, according to the Des Moines Register
The decision by a jury out of Sioux City to saddle the party and one of its candidates with $231,000 in damages grew out of lawsuit filed by Republican state Sen. Rick Bertrand claiming that he was libeled and slandered by an ad accusing him of marketing drugs to children.
The jurors in the case involving the 2010 race for the Iowa state Senate rejected the “anything goes” approach generally used in political advertising, a decision that Bertrand and political experts told the Register could impact races at all levels across the country.
“This is how you change American politics — by taking on the political party machine. This is going after real change,” Bertrand said Monday.
The ad against Bertrand was approved by Democrat Rick Mullen, his opponent in the Senate race, but it was paid for by the state Democratic Party. The party was ordered to pay $200,000 to Bertrand, and Mullin was ordered to pay $31,000.
The Democrats plan to appeal the verdict, and Bertand said he intends to appeal as well because he disagrees with the decision by the judge in the case not to impose more severe punitive damages as a deterrent.
The Register noted in its report that the legal standards for proving libel or slander are usually higher for public figures, including politicians, than they are for private citizens. Bertrand said the decision at least puts political candidates nationwide on notice that they can be held accountable for what they say about their opponents.
“We feel very good that even if you’re a public figure that absolute privilege does not protect lies and slander,” he said.
That applies to any candidate, regardless of party affiliation, Bertrand added.
“This is not about a Republican or Democrat issue. This is about cleaning up the political system and this is how you do it: to take a stand and go after this,” he said.
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