Nader's GOP backers violate Fed Election Law
A Washington watchdog group is charging that Ralph Nader's presidential campaign benefited from "illegal" assistance provided by right-wing organizations -- at the behest of his supposed opponents in the Bush-Cheney campaign. Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, plans to file a complaint on Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission, charging that Nader and his conservative enablers in Oregon violated the federal statute prohibiting corporate contributions to presidential candidates.
Nader's "illegal" GOP backers
Right-wing groups -- and Bush-Cheney '04 -- may have violated federal
campaign law to help get Ralph Nader on the ballot in Oregon.
By Joe Conason
June 29, 2004 | A Washington watchdog group is charging that Ralph Nader's
presidential campaign benefited from "illegal" assistance provided by
right-wing organizations -- at the behest of his supposed opponents in the
According to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington
(www.citizensforethics.org) -- whose name sounds as if Nader could once have
been its founder -- the Nader presidential campaign received illicit
assistance for its petition drive in Oregon last weekend from two local
conservative organizations, which were "encouraged" by President Bush's
Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director, plans to file a complaint on
Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission, charging that Nader and his
conservative enablers in Oregon violated the federal statute prohibiting
corporate contributions to presidential candidates.
Accused in Sloan's complaint along with the Nader and Bush campaigns will be
Citizens for a Sound Economy and the Oregon Family Council, whose leaders
have acknowledged that they are trying to help the "independent" gadfly win
a place on the state's November presidential ballot. The two conservative
groups admit that they are backing President George W. Bush, and quite
frankly describe Nader as nothing more than a convenient instrument to drain
support from Democrat John Kerry in a closely fought battleground state.
In recent weeks, the Oregon conservative groups deployed their phone banks
to contact Republican voters, urging them to attend a Nader rally in
Portland on Saturday, where the candidate's organizers sought to gather
enough signatures to place him on the ballot. Although only 1,000 valid
signatures are needed, the Nader campaign had already tried once and failed
last April, when only 750 voters showed up at a similar event. On Saturday,
with CSE and OFC phoning and organizing their members to rally behind Nader,
more than 1,150 voters turned out and signed the petition.
As Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy explained, "We disagree with
Ralph Nader's politics, but we'd love to see him make the ballot." Walker
even posted a "phone script" on his group's Web site that offered activists
talking points to convince their fellow conservatives to sign Nader
Mike White, director of the Oregon Family Council, which focuses on social
issues such as abortion and gay rights, was equally candid: "We aren't
bashful about [aiding Nader]. We are a conservative, pro-family
organization, and Bush is our guy on virtually every issue."
But Sloan said their telephone campaign -- and any other assistance provided
by the right-wing outfits in Oregon -- was unlawful. "Both of these groups
are 501C4 corporations," she said, referring to the section of the federal
tax code under which such political "educational" outfits are exempt from
taxation. "They are corporations, and therefore can't make donations. The
phone calls are an in-kind corporate contribution prohibited by the Federal
Sloan has also included the Bush-Cheney campaign itself in her complaint.
"Apparently the Bush campaign encouraged these calls and may have even
allowed some of them to have been made from Bush campaign headquarters," she
told Salon. "It is illegal to solicit a corporation for a campaign donation
so Bush-Cheney, by soliciting CSE and OFC to make calls, would have been
soliciting a prohibited in-kind corporate donation."
The alleged violations, Sloan added, resemble those charged to TRMPAC, the
committee used by Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, to funnel corporate contributions
into Republican legislative races in his home state. A Texas grand jury is
currently investigating whether DeLay and TRMPAC violated laws that outlaw
corporate spending in the state's elections.
Sloan's new complaint about the Oregon scheme will actually be filed as an
amendment to a complaint her organization sent to the FEC on June 25. Her
original complaint charged that the Nader campaign had violated federal
election law by leasing its Washington headquarters space and telephones
from a Nader-affiliated nonprofit called Citizen Works.
That strange arrangement, first reported in Salon last March, was the
subject of a front-page investigative story in the Washington Post on June
13. The Post article quoted FEC documents showing that Nader also used
Citizen Works facilities in his 2000 campaign.
In addition to the FEC complaint, Sloan's organization has also filed an
official complaint with the IRS, alleging that the Citizen Works lease
violated federal restrictions on political activity by charitable
"Ralph Nader seems to think that because he founded Citizen Works, he can
use the organization as he sees fit; this includes using the charity to
assist his campaign," Sloan said in announcing the complaint. "No one, not
even Ralph Nader, is exempt from campaign finance and tax laws."
The Nader campaign has dismissed the CREW complaint as "completely frivolous
and without merit," and described charges that it received unlawful aid from
Citizen Works as "totally false."
Whatever the eventual outcome of Sloan's legal action, her complaint points
to a troubling aspect of Nader's 2004 crusade. Following his rebuff last
Sunday by the Green Party at its national convention in Milwaukee, which
rejected his candidacy in favor of a little-known party activist, he could
now face a difficult challenge achieving ballot access in dozens of states.
The temptation will be great to accept financial and organizational help
from conservative Republicans who want him to divert progressive votes from
Kerry. Indeed, he has accepted help from Republicans not only this year,
when they have contributed thousands of dollars to his war chest, but in
2000, when the Republican Leadership Council sponsored television ads on his
behalf in Wisconsin, Washington and Oregon.
Yet Nader still insists that he will draw more votes from Bush than from
Kerry. He often makes that dubious claim while campaigning in New Hampshire,
where four years ago he almost certainly played a role in delivering the
state to Bush. No matter what Nader may say to exculpate himself, it's
becoming difficult to believe that he truly wants anything except attention
for himself -- and another four years of Republican rule.
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About the writer
Joe Conason writes a twice weekly column for Salon. He also writes a weekly
column for the New York Observer. His new book, "Big Lies: The Right-Wing
Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth," is now available.
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