Sling mud, get dirty Frivolous lawsuit: Aron's 1994 campaign was heavy on negative ads.

February 19, 1996

WHEN RUTHANN ARON entered the 1994 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, her record of public service consisted of two years on the Montgomery County Planning Board. Her motivation stemmed largely from a grudge against the incumbent, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, who had refused to meet with her and several other developers on a business matter.

With these scant qualifications -- and facing an experienced opponent, former Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock -- she took the low road, relying on negative ads that hammered Mr. Brock as a tax-raising, carpet-bagging career politician.

She lost the primary and he lost the general election, but Ms. Aron is still fighting. She's now in court, with a lawsuit that some legal scholars say could break new ground by testing the limits of negative campaigning. What it really tests is the limits of hypocrisy.

News stories of the 1994 Republican Senate race frequently noted the nastiness of Ms. Aron's attacks on Mr. Brock. Finally, he struck back. In response to reporters' questions, he said that Ms. Aron had "been convicted by a jury of fraud more than once" and that "she's had to pay enormous -- hundreds of thousands of dollars, in fines." Later, he aired radio and television ads referring to the lawsuits.

The facts were somewhat different. Ms. Aron had been sued twice. Contrary to the implication, both were civil suits, not criminal. One was dismissed; another was settled out of court for $300,000.

But who was playing with truth in that campaign? At one point, Ms. Aron charged that Mr. Brock had refused to support term limits -- a hot issue two years ago. But according to an official of a national organization that had solicited support for the issue, the Aron campaign knew that Mr. Brock and Ms. Aron had signed the same pledge on term limits.

Ruthann Aron entered the political game ready and eager to sling mud. Eventually, her opponents responded in kind and now she cries foul. There are plenty of candidates who could mount a much stronger case that an opponent defamed their reputation. Ms. Aron's lawsuit only proves she can dish out the mud, but can't understand why she should ever get dirty.

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