Derailing Ralph

Ralph Nader is having a harder time than ever before running for president. Why would that be?

| Tue Jun. 15, 2004 2:00 AM EDT

One measure of how high are the stakes in this years election is the degree of scrutiny Ralph Nader's campaign is getting from Democrats and -- through them, presumably -- the media.

Sunday’s Washington Post reported that Nader ran his 2004 campaign from the same Washington office that housed Citizen Works, a charity he founded in 2001. The Post article questions whether the arrangement violates campaign finance laws or tax laws that prevent charities from assisting political candidates.

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The article pointed out a number of potential overlaps between the campaign and the non-profit. One potential problem is the role of Nader campaign manager Theresa Amato, who is still listed as Citizen Works’ president in a January corporate filing. While Nader insisted there was "no wrongdoing," the Post quoted several experts who think otherwise. One law professor opined:

"It can't do this. It isn't just the rent. It is the things like the copiers, the telephones, the light bill, the heating, the furniture, the computers. At the hyper-technical level, all those questions matter."

An FEC audit might ultimately side with Nader. But the investigation into his office space is just the latest attempt to derail his candidacy.

Just last week, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Arizona called for an investigation into whether a Republican consultant was involved in funding a petition drive to get Nader on the state’s ballot. In a statement reported by the Arizona Republic, Jim Pederson alleged:

"Over the last several days, we have received information that strongly suggests a coordinated, highly funded secret effort by the Bush campaign, Christian right and others (to put Nader on the ballot)."

When the accused consultant demanded proof, the Republic reported that Pederson "said he had none but based the assertions on information from numerous sources." Pederson also vowed to carefully scrutinize each of the roughly 22,000 petition signatures Nader received. The candidate needs 14,694 to get on the Arizona ballot, which would be his first state ballot of the 2004 campaign.

Nader has said repeatedly that he will stay in the race through Election Day, and that he expects to draw voters from Bush, though Salon recently had difficulty finding them. Groups like DontVoteRalph.net and TheNaderFactor.com have formed to oppose Nader’s candidacy, running television ads with former supporters and using poll data to argue that Nader’s support could hurt John Kerry’s candidacy in swing states. Representatives of The Nader Factor met with the longtime consumer advocate for two hours last week, arguing for a united front against George W. Bush this November, which the group’s president called a "positive, productive first step."

But, as the London Guardian points out, "by a mixture of poor organisation and a late start Mr Nader has done a fairly good job of keeping himself off the ballot." In Oregon, where Nader received 4 percent of the vote last election, the campaign could only get 741 voters to a nominating convention when 1,000 would have given him ballot access. Nader missed the deadline for ballot access in Texas, and is now suing the state over its requirements.

Not surprisingly, Nader told the Guardian that he doesn’t plan to quit, and that his critics should focus their energies elsewhere instead of trying to deny him ballot access: "Why don't the Democrats go after the 8 million Democrats who voted for George Bush in 2000?"