It's no secret that Democrats wanted Ralph Nader out of the presidential race in 2004. They blamed him for former Vice President Gore's loss to then-President Bush, and were worried that if the contest between Bush and Sen. John Kerry were close, the longtime activist could be the difference maker once again. Now, Nader's saying that one prominent Democrat even offered him money if he'd take his name off the ballot in certain key states.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Nader said that then-Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe approached him with a deal: Money that would help him campaign in 31 states in exchange for a promise to get out of the race in 19 other states.
"When you get a call like that, first of all it's inappropriate,'' Nader told the Post. "The other thing is if you don't immediately say no, it's like taffy, you get stuck with it." His former campaign manager, Theresa Amato, called it "a very undemocratic kind of thing to do,'' saying, "The head of the Democratic party was telling Ralph where he could or not could run."
If the Post's description of what happened is accurate, that doesn't seem to be the case -- the head of the Democratic Party wasn't telling Nader where he could or could not run, he was asking him not to run in certain places and offering him a financial incentive. That still doesn't make McAuliffe's offer -- which he isn't confirming, per se, but isn't denying either -- a great moment in the history of American politics, of course.
But it's not like Nader is naive about the way this works. At the same time that Democrats were offering to donate money to get him off some ballots, Republicans were actually donating money to help him campaign, most likely in the same states McAuliffe wanted him out of. The results and the method are different, but the principle seems to me to be the same: A major party using its connections to big-money donors to covertly affect the election through a third party. Nader had a problem with it when it meant he'd be off some ballots, but -- at least it seemed this way when he spoke with Salon's David Talbot in 2004 -- not when it meant helping him get on some.