Nader's raiders seek government gold

The Green Party reaches for a fundraising loophole and for undecided voters.

By Alicia Montgomery

Published June 30, 2000 7:01AM (EDT)

Ralph Nader's campaign wants to break the rules of conventional politics, but the Associated Press reports that the Green Party candidate is seeking to bend regulations to get government dollars. In a letter to the Federal Election Commission, a Nader representative requested a deadline extension for the candidate to get matching funds. "The regulation ... does not contemplate a candidate who is seeking the nomination of a party and who is also seeking ballot access through other means, including the nomination of a second party or through petitions under state law," wrote Michael Trister, Nader's lawyer.

Though Nader has prided himself on running a low-budget campaign -- he spent just $5,000 in his 1996 race -- the consumer activist has started serious fundraising. This week, Nader sent out a letter asking for $1,000 individual contributions, the maximum allowed by federal law. "We have reached a critical juncture where we must rescue our corporate-besieged democracy by political means," Nader wrote.

Can Green team get out the vote?
Even if he can get the money, Nader's target market may not raise his stock. Jack C. Doppelt, writing for, asserts that Nader doesn't yet have the right message to reach the 100 million nonvoting Americans he needs, and that others who've walked the maverick mile before him have failed. "Ross Perot, John McCain, Bill Bradley, Pat Buchanan, Jesse Ventura, even Donald Trump and Warren Beatty have seen the swelling numbers of unaffiliated, independent, disaffected people as their people," Doppelt declares. "They figured they could tap into that dissatisfaction and gain momentum. But it does not happen."

Nader's race: Crusade or ego trip?
Though many think Nader's chances are doubtful, most of press has an amused admiration for his quixotic quest. But not the New York Times. Its editorial page calls for the Green Party activist to stop his "self-indulgent exercise," which "will distract voters from the clear-cut choice represented by the major party candidates." The piece also takes a swat at conservative spoiler Pat Buchanan, but condemns Nader more harshly for his dastardly theft of liberal votes from Al Gore. It further asserts that Nader's desire to push the vice president leftward on issues like labor, the environment and campaign reform could backfire if his candidacy causes Gore to lose. "Mr. Nader is saying in effect that he would choose outright defeat for the Democrats over small steps forward on those issues," the piece argues. "That is a kind of irresponsibility that more befits a Ross Perot than someone with Mr. Nader's record and professed concerns."

Gore's campaign train travels the green line
Between Nader and the rise in gas prices, Gore's eagerness to flack environmentally friendly technology fixes has soared. In his latest proposal, Gore offers to give the American public $25 billion to guide them off the roads and onto mass transit, but the AP reports that the Democrat promises not to forcibly end the nation's love affair with autos. "Don't tell me that there's a great groundswell to get rid of cars and to push people into mass transit whether they want it or not," Gore told a crowd in Chicago. "That's the old, tired way of thinking ... The new way of thinking is, hey, give people a choice."

Under the plan, the federal government would finance new rail lines, pay to convert old buses to meet more stringent environmental and safety standards and subsidize cleanups for neighborhoods that host transit stations. Gore, who has been blasted by Republicans as an environmental extremist, emphasized that putting the Earth first need not result in putting creature comforts last. "I reject the idea that in order to have a clean environment and reduce our dependence on foreign oil, that we all have to put on hair shirts and turn off the air-conditioners and swelter inside and feel good that we're doing our duty for the environment," he said.

"Stealth PAC" ban goes on the books
Campaign finance reformers in the Senate have finally made an impact on Capitol Hill, according to CNN. Less than 24 hours after the bill got the go-ahead from the House, the Senate approved a donor disclosure requirement for political nonprofits that use Article 527 of the tax code to keep their funders secret. Reform crusader Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., reminded his colleagues to keep this success in perspective. "This bill will not solve what is wrong with our campaign finance system," he said. "It will not do away with the millions of soft money dollars that are polluting our elections. We must yet undertake the task of doing away with soft money and make our government more accountable to the people we represent." But for the measure's opponents, this vote was tough enough. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who voted against the bill, nonetheless advised others in his party not to take the risk. "I do not think this is a spear worth falling on, shall I say, four months in advance of an election," he said.

Abortion foes: "No choice for Bush veep"
The Supreme Court's ruling striking down a "partial birth" abortion ban has prompted pro-life activists to press George W. Bush to rule out a pro-choice partner. According to ABC News, the calls for a pro-life vice presidential candidate range in tone from polite to threatening. "We are very in favor of Bush, and we know that he is going to pick a pro-life running mate," says the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition. "I think that this issue has probably peaked and is now moot because this is a consensus."

James Dobson of Focus on the Family was more direct. In a message to Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson, Dobson wrote, "If Bush chooses a pro-abortion running mate, enough [anti-abortion voters] will stay home or vote for another candidate to sway the outcome." Republicans on the other side of the abortion debate, however, are hoping that Bush will prove the pro-lifers wrong. "Governor Bush is running as a compassionate conservative and somebody who wants to unite our party," says the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition's Susan Cullman. "This is an area where we need his leadership to bring us together."

Bush keeps veep secret
Despite rumors to the contrary, the Bush team says no running-mate choice has yet been made, according to the AP. Responding to widely circulated reports that Bush had settled on Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, his campaign staff insisted that deliberations are continuing. "The governor is not at a decision-making stage yet," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "We will keep everybody informed when he is."

Little Ricky's rocky road
It seems that everyone is now beating the "Rick Lazio is screwing up" drum. Susan Walsh of CBS News reports that the Long Island congressman's Senate effort sparked more concern with its latest stumble, a high-profile and conspicuously underattended fundraising bash in New York. That event adds to the growing list of Lazio lapses: missing a vote on a critical heating-oil bill (which became fodder for Hillary Rodham Clinton's latest negative ad), falling under a corruption cloud for a suspicious stock deal, skipping out on the annual Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade, making remarks offensive to Native Americans, driving a gas-guzzling vehicle to an event about energy prices -- and leaving the engine running as he spoke. "The real issue is by doing these things he keeps proving he doesn't have the gravitas to be United States Senator from New York," said Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf. "It is not the single misstep that is problematic, it is the combination."

Poll positions
Presidential race:

  • Bush 52 to Gore 39 (CNN/Gallup/USA Today June 23-25).
  • Bush 45 to Gore 45 (Newsweek June 22-23).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal June 14-18).
  • Bush 52 to Gore 40 ( June 11-13).
  • Bush 50 to Gore 40 (Los Angeles Times June 8-13).
  • Bush 47 to Gore 39 (Zogby June 9-12).
  • Bush 49 to Gore 45 (ABC News/Washington Post June 8-11).

    On the trail
    Buchanan: Illinois.
    Bush: Texas.
    Gore: Washington.
    Nader: To be announced.

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  • Alicia Montgomery

    Alicia Montgomery is an associate editor in Salon's Washington bureau.

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