COMMENTARY: People Who are the Most Successful Lie the Best and Have the Most Money to Lie Most Often

My wife, Amy, just won the first part of her defamation lawsuit against the Executive Director of the Nevada GOP. The District Court ruled that the Executive Director, Alida Benson, had not offered any evidence at all establishing any truth to her comments.

In most professions, this would be a devastating condemnation but in politics it is the norm. People just accept the fact that politicians lie. This is a sad commentary on what should be a noble profession. There is no profession where honesty and integrity are more important than public service. Politicians determine the policies that greatly impact all of us. Yet we expect them to lie.

When I told my father I wanted to run for public service he said, “Why would you want to do that. The people who are the most successful are the ones who lie the best and have the most money to lie the most often”. I laughed thinking he was joking, but as always, my father was right.

Politicians and their Super Pacs spend hundreds of millions of dollars every election cycle lying about their opponents. Political consultants make a fortune by taking a small semblance of truth and completely distorting it to imply their opponent is corrupt or dishonest.

In Nevada, no one is better at this than Mike Slanker. Bill Brady, founder of Brady Industries, was one of the top Republican donors in Nevada, but he got out of politics because he was disgusted with Slanker’s antics. I do not understand how someone can be proud of themselves when the measure of their success is based upon how badly they lie about another person. Nevertheless, it is highly profitable.

Every election, people tell me that they hate negative campaigning, yet every election, airways and mailboxes are filled with negative ads. Why? Because people believe them, irrespective of the fact that if any of these statements were true the candidate would be in jail or at least hiding from the public. The reason voters believe these ads is because they falsely believe it is against the law (defamatory) to lie about someone.

In the profession where honesty and truth matter the most, our laws protect the dishonest. The United States Supreme Court protects political speech more than any other speech. It is nearly impossible to win a defamation lawsuit. A person not only has to prove the statement was false but also prove the person making it knew it was false or did so with reckless disregard for the truth, AND the courts interpret the speech in the most favorable light of the person making it.

The theory is we want vigorous debate in politics; in such an important area, we don’t want to stifle anyone’s speech. However, what is wrong with stifling lies and deceit? Proponents argue each side can respond to the lies and correct them. Hogwash! The candidates with the most money can spread their lies further and more often. This is another way to protect the establishment, the powerful and the wealthy at the expense of good honest people.

In 2009, I won the first defamation lawsuit by a politician in Nevada history. A unanimous jury ruled in my favor against State Senator Mike Schnider. Seven years later, Jackie Rosen and I were in a tight race for U.S. Congress. In desperation, her campaign and Super PACs ran the same lies as Schnider and spent more than $10 million doing so. Rosen won the race by 1%. I sued Rosen, but a divided Nevada Supreme Court refused to allow the case to go to trial. Rosen is now a US Senator.

When I sued Rosen, the Democrat Party went nuts. They argued if I won it would silence political speech and destroy our country. I would argue legally protecting dishonest political speech is destroying our country.

How often have we heard, “The Russians are interfering with our elections. They are disseminating disinformation to the American public. This is a national crisis!” Incredibly, we are concerned about some Russians running a few thousand dollars of Facebook ads but allow and even encourage hundreds of millions of dollars in disinformation from candidates and Super Pacs.

It is obvious that there is no independent media anymore. They protect and support their party affiliation. It is standard practice for a consultant like Slanker to provide a person friendly in the media with his distorted attack piece to run in their publication. There are some, like Riley Snyder from the Nevada Independent, who will fact check the story and claim it is true to influence the election. The sleazy consultant cites these tainted stories in his late media blasts to convince voters that his distorted lies are actually true because the mainstream media printed it.

We can solve this calamity, but we need the Supreme Court. The people who make the most impactful decisions for our country should be held to the highest standard of speech, not the lowest. I have been told that there is interest with some Justice’s to change the current standard. I doubt they will go as far as I advocate but whatever it is will be an improvement.

Danny Tarkanian
Danny Tarkanian is an attorney, businessman, and incumbent Douglas County Commissioner. The author of the "Can you handle the truth?" blog, Danny also runs the Tarkanian Basketball Academy and is married to former GOP Chairwoman, Amy Tarkanian.