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Rick Santorum In '97: 'Unfair,' 'Nasty,' 'Horrible' Ads Don't Bother Me

Santorum Attack Ads

First Posted: 01/18/12 02:53 PM ET Updated: 01/18/12 02:57 PM ET

WASHINGTON -- After his unexpectedly strong finish in the Iowa caucuses prompted his rivals to go after his record, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) felt the burn of the political Klieg lights. It's been an uncomfortable experience for Santorum, who has complained about the ads and mailers that went after his record, decrying them as "gutter politics."

But it's hard to feel sympathy toward Santorum, since the former senator has explicitly said in the past that he thinks negative advertising -- including misleading and "nasty" attacks -- are, more or less, fair game.

Here's one relevant floor speech Santorum gave on campaign finance reform on October 1, 1997 (emphasis ours)

In this country today, political speech does not mean--it means this, what I am doing. But it does not only mean standing up on the street corner and sounding off on what you believe in. These days, if you are standing on the street corner sounding off on what you believe in, basically you are labeled some sort of freak. We believe the first amendment covers organized political speech, that is, people who ban together, who want to speak on a particular issue and marshal whatever resources they have, whether it is resources in manpower to distribute fliers that they print at a half a cent apiece, or to buy a radio ad on a local radio station or to, in fact, hold public meetings and public debates. Whatever medium they want to use, I think is appropriate to be protected by the Congress and by the first amendment.

On the other side, you have people who want to limit that activity. They want to limit people's ability to speak in the political arena because they find certain kinds of speech offensive, like people who advertise in opposition to a Member of Congress or a Senator saying that they voted in such a bad way and don't vote for them, and they do it within 60 days of the election; that is bad; somehow people getting together and expressing their opinion in a public forum is a bad thing that has to be prohibited by the Congress.

I don't believe that. I don't like it when someone does it to me, and it's been done to me and it will be done to me unless we pass one of these bills that says you can't. By the way, even if we did do that, I believe the Supreme Court would strike it down in a heartbeat. But I believe it will be done again.

I don't have a problem with it, even though it happens to me, because I think people have a right if they don't like what I am doing to speak up about it, even if I think the attack is unfair, because I trust the American public. I know a lot of people around here on a pretty regular basis don't trust the American public, but I trust the American public and the voters of America to sort of figure out all of those things on their own with the help of all the other information that they are going to get from networks like C-SPAN2, as we are on today, and other independent sources, that that ad, as nasty as it is, as horrible as it is, is not going to change somebody's opinion overnight. People are smart enough to take all that information, realize it is an ad, discount it to the degree they usually do and filter it into the mix, as we do with all speech.

Santorum's campaign did not respond to a request for comment. It remains unclear whether his position on negative advertising has changed, or if his current complaints are more narrowly focused and come in response to his own treatment.

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