A Pro-Scientist Campaign Group is Attacking a Fellow Democrat

A new attack ad targets a frontrunner in a crowded California race.

Hans Keirstead, left, and Harley Rouda at a candidate forum in Irvine, California, on May 22, 2018Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call/AP

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As California’s primary nears, a new ad is attacking one of the Democratic frontrunners seeking to unseat Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher. The spot targeting businessman Harley Rouda was produced by 314 Action Fund, a political action group that supports Democratic candidates with scientific backgrounds and has endorsed Hans Keirstead, a stem cell researcher. 

The 15-second ad, which dropped on Wednesday, appears to be the first time that 314 Action has come out in opposition to a Democratic candidate. The group has endorsed 13 House candidates, including 4 in California. Rohrabacher’s Southern California district is one of seven Republican-held districts in the state that Democrats are hoping to flip in November.

The ad accuses Rouda of engaging in age discrimination at his former company. “When this cancer sufferer needed help, [Harley] Rouda said workers like her were a ‘death spiral’ to his ‘bottom line,'” the ad’s narrator states. The ad references a 2006 lawsuit filed by a former employee of Real Living/Realty One, a real estate company where Rouda was CEO. The former employee alleged that she had been wrongfully fired because of her age and the high cost of her medical care. Real Living/Realty One was ordered to pay $1.85 million in lost wages and damages. A second age discrimination lawsuit was filed against the company and settled out of court.

Rouda says that the 15-second spot misrepresents the facts of the case. He claims that he did not fire the employee and that she was let go “as part of an overall downsizing effort” at the start of the recession. “Her firing was not my decision.” He also says that he was dismissed from the case in 2008. “Not only was I dismissed, but it was a directed verdict,” he says. “The plaintiff put on their case against me, the judge took one look at it, said, ‘You don’t have a case,’ and gave me a directed verdict.” 

According to the lawsuit, the former employee accused Rouda of saying at a 2005 meeting that Real Living/Realty One had too many older employees and that its insurance costs were dragging the company into a “death spiral.” Rouda denies this. He says that an insurance company representative had talked about encouraging younger people to join the plans to balance out costs, and that the rep made the “death spiral” comment.

314 Action spokesman Ted Bordelon says the group stands by its characterization of Rouda’s role in the lawsuit. “He’s named a CEO and managing partner of the company,” Bordelon says. “How can he argue he isn’t culpable here?”

The ad is the latest in a series of attacks and counter-attacks involving the two leading Democrats wooing Orange County voters in the 48th district. They’re facing a crowded field, with 12 active candidates in addition to 15-term incumbent Rohrabacher and former Rohrabacher protégé Scott Baugh. Under California’s “jungle primary” system, the top-two vote getters will advance to the general election. If the Democratic vote splits, that could mean neither Rouda nor Keirstead will make it beyond next Tuesday.

This article has been updated.

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