Like that scrappy Philadelphian pugilist, Rocky, Ralph Nader has beaten back attacks on the voters’ right to choose and is still standing in 34 states and the District of Columbia.
Voters who live in William Penn’s Creaking Cradle of Liberty can at least write in Ralph Nader’s name for President. Without even writing a decision the state Supreme Court disenfranchised tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who wanted to vote for Ralph Nader. The trial court bought everything chucked its way by the Republican law firms who gave time freely or were paid by the Branson-Moffett Democratic 527, the Ballot Project. Nader won fights for ballot access against entirely unregulated spigots of soft money and donated corporate law time worth millions. His Presidential campaign was forced to pay to defend voters’ rights and his ballot access from its strictly limited campaign donations while civil libertarians watched silently from the sidelines while the rights of voters were trampled on.
Pennsylvania requires 25, 697 signatures for ballot access. More than enough signatures were gathered by Nader petitioners. But then came a challenge and before the signatures were reviewed, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had to overturn a decision that would have kept all third party candidates from running as anything but a member of that same party in every state as a condition of eligibility to run in Pennsylvania. No minor party intervened to help. Neither did civil libertarians.
Once that opinion was overthrown, the lower courts got down to the business of reviewing and trashing signatures. By the Court’s own opinion, out of 51,273 signatures, only 687 – 1.3 percent - were forgeries, and 1,087 were duplicates. 7,851 were stricken for having “information written in the hand of another.” This is not forgery; in fact it is common practice in most states, where circulators are allowed to add address information, like the township, etc. to ballot access petitions. Circulators unaware of Pennsylvania’s unique laws proscribing this, were not intending to “perpetrate fraud.” Legal fraud requires “willful intent.” The one Supreme Court justice who wrote an opinion -- a dissenting opinion, for he would have put Nader-Camejo on the ballot -- said there had been no evidence of awareness of either fraud or misrepresentation on the part of the candidate, despite the widely reported albeit exaggerated rhetoric of the obviously partisan lower court.
The fraud on would-be voters for Nader in safe and swing states alike was rooted in a plan to preemptively sabotage these state elections, these voter’s rights and the Nader campaign through endless and ubiquitous litigation, this designed and employed by the same wing of the Democratic Party and its corporate allies who had driven the anti-war candidacy of Howard Dean to ground. Essential common denominators in the bipartisan effort were corporations, unions, and both Republican leaning corporate law firms and tort injury plaintiffs’ lawyers, all in the background but now exposed in filed FEC and IRS documents.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, the lower court, refused to count the valid signatures of residents (instead validating only registered voters) despite the plain language of the state’s ballot access code. Even registered voters who had moved within the state or had registered after signing the nominating papers were discarded. If all eligible voters are counted, as the plain words of the state statute requires, Nader/Camejo had nearly 10,000 valid signatures OVER the requirement. But truth and logic died along with voters’ rights to choose in many places. The 100,000 Pennsylvanian votes in 2000 for Nader were guaranteed never to appear again, whatever the voters’ present opinions on the war, living wage or health care for all.
The wine is flowing at Republican law firm, Reed and Smith, where hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate firm hours went into this “good government,” pro-bono effort with nary a squeak from their clients. The wine is flowing at the Ballot Project, led by Toby Moffett of the Livingston Group which represents the military-industrial complex, including corporate Iraq war profiteers.
This had been the largest ballot assault in Pennsylvania history, involving 35,000 signature challenges (most never substantiated) in hearings before 12 of 14 commonwealth court judges. The cost to the Pennsylvania taxpayer in the millions could be termed yet another corporate welfare contribution. Reed Smith staffed every one of the ten simultaneous trials while Nader’s staff could not even appear to defend signatures in many places. The firm mounted challenges to signatures it never substantiated. For example, it failed to produce evidence in 700 of 900 challenges in Westmoreland County.
In a recent edition of the American Lawyer, Reed Smith’s DC based anti-trust specialist (and lobbyist) Dan Booker crowed about a decision his firm’s pro-bono committee made to remove Ralph Nader from the Pennsylvania ballot. A dozen Reed Smith attorneys, including seven partners (expending 1,300 partner hours as of October first) were put on the fight. As Carlyn Kolker put it in American Lawyer, “Over at Reed Smith, the project is billed as charity, although keeping Nader out of the election isn’t quite feeding the poor or representing a death row inmate.”
Reed Smith law firm devoted hundreds of high-priced attorney hours on a mission to discredit Ralph Nader’s effort in Pennsylvania. So did Kirkland and Ellis, lawyers to the tobacco industry, Dow Corning in the breast implant cases, GM in defense of personal injury caused by defective products, and IBM as it invests in companies which outsource jobs. Press reports consistently ignored the partnership of mutual convenience between Democratic operatives and the large corporate law firms, buying into the lie that Nader was a Republican tool. Ralph Nader was viewed by Reed Smith and its worldwide client base as their historical adversary, because he is. Reed Smith “is counsel to 29 of the top 30 United States banks; 26 of the Fortune e-50 companies; 9 of the top 10 pharmaceutical companies; and 50 of the world's leading drug and device manufacturers (Reed Smith.com).” The same was true for Kirkland and Ellis and its clients. Or Moffett’s
Livingston Group or Oldaker’s National Lobbying Group- all cornerstones of the Ballot Project. What is the nature of these lawyers’ and lobbyists’ relationships to corporate clients?
Says Reed Smith:
“We have a long history of partnering with clients, many of whom have been our clients since they or we were formed. Our experience in this regard in the U.S. is perhaps best demonstrated by our longstanding relationship with Mellon Financial Corporation. We have represented Mellon for decades, as it evolved from a local bank, to a national bank holding company, to a major financial services company with a bank at its core, to, most recently, an international financial services company that sold its historic retail banking franchise in an unprecedented multi-billion dollar transaction. In the U.K., a good example of partnering is our long standing and close relationship with Courtaulds Plc and Courtaulds Textiles Plc for whom we have acted for many years and we continue to help their businesses where they now sit within the Akzo Nobel Group and Sara Lee Corporation.” Ralph Nader’s consistent anti-WTO position makes him the target of Reed Smith’s “partners”. Who says million dollar pro-bono work has to be non-profit work? Ballot access lead counsel Efrem Grail defends corporate crime defendants. Cynthia Kernick, active on the ballot access case, protects intellectual property of Reed Smith’s clients- clients which include some of the world’s great pharmaceutical companies. Dan Booker “was the Managing Partner of Reed Smith from 1991-2000 and before that served as head of the firm’s Antitrust and Trade Regulation Practice.”
The Ballot Project reimbursed $6,000 in expenses for Philadelphia attorney George Harvey of Montgomery McCracken, Walker and Rhoads, a veteran elections law specialist who began to plan the Pennsylvania effort with the Ballot Project last summer when Robert Bransom, Bill Oldaker and Toby Moffett formed it along side the United Progressives for Victory. Bransom’s 11th hour smear on Nader’s alleged Republican contributions was treated as the gospel by Common Dreams, the Progressive Newswire, without fear of rebuttal since Common Dreams accepts only token rebuttals. The Ballot Project borrowed $30,000 from United Progressive. Both are weapons in the anti-Nader arsenal of the Democratic Party, one to strip Nader from the ballot and the other to smear Nader using Progressives as fronts for corporations, foreign countries and trial lawyers who hate Nader. The Ballot Project paid the Republican firm which challenged Nader in Florida (its chair, David Brown, is a George Bush “Ranger” and a Jed Bush Crony) and the Illinois firm which challenged Nader’s ballot access.
A little more than half of the more than a quarter million dollars in expenses for the third quarter went to the Broad and Cassel IOLTA Trust of Tallahassee in its losing effort to keep Nader off the Florida ballot. Law suits and media spin work occurred side by side. John V. Gieson of Tallahassee was paid $4,000 by the Ballot Project for “Florida media during Fl lawsuit” The myth of free legal help from the “Bush lawyer” for Nader was born. The attorney had been hired by Nader at top dollar to fight the case, but the myth was passed over to the Ballot Project’s officemate, United Progressives for Victory for distribution to its assorted lie dissemination machines like StopNader.com, the Nader factor and the Progressive Unity Voter Fund to prove to America that Nader’s campaign is funded, in fact, and controlled by Republicans.
It is fair to say that there is a veritable unregulated hate Ralph Nader political industry hard at work to drown out Ralph Nader and end his candidacy. David Jones of The Nader Factor was funded by collection of unions, communication, construction and defense companies and big contributors like S. Daniel Abraham, ex-CEO of Slim Fast. Jones and company were first used by Kerry to kill off the anti-war Howard Dean campaign. The money went from Americans for Jobs and Healthcare with a large contribution from the billion dollar law firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, the fifth most generous career patron to Senator Kerry (and the largest in this election cycle) to the National Progress Fund to the Nader Factor. See “Kerry Fundraiser Helped Financer Anti-Dean Ads,” by Jim Vandehei Washington Post February 11, 2004. Tricia Enright, Dean’s communication director, ran it briefly before moving over the Kerry campaign. Enright who attacked Jones when his propaganda was focused on her first client Dean then said of John Kerry, “Unfortunately, to this day, John Kerry couldn’t find his position on Iraq with a compass.” Detroit Free Press, January 26, 2004. Enright knows her current patron: “John Kerry has been cashing checks at the bank of special interest for years,” she said last January.
John Peace, former CEO of Mediamap, invented Ralph Don’t Run which changed into Don’t Vote Ralph. Progressive Unity is John Pearce’s progressive front. It released the letter of seventy former supporters and is funded by financial planner Andrew Tobias of “Ralph Nader is a Big Fat Idiot” fame; Tobias battled Nader on no-fault car insurance in California. Dean campaign photographer Jenny Warburg ($5,000) and trial lawyers also contributed to the Nader Factor. For the second time in political history, corporate defense attorneys and plaintiff’s lawyers have found someone to hate. The first time was when the target was Howard Dean.
So who, (besides some corporate law firms), are significant funders of the Ballot Project just revealed in IRS filings?
Bernard Schwartz, Chairman of Loral Space and Communications gave the Ballot Project $10,000 on July 13, 2004. Schwartz was featured on a list of 200 high powered executives who have endorsed Kerry’s campaign (Financial Times, August 5, 2005). Loral is now coming out of bankruptcy, leaving only aggrieved shareholders in its wake. See “Shareholders accuse satellite maker of defrauding them by undervaluing assets by as much as $878 M,” by James Bernstein, Newsday, August 12, 2004.Other large contributors included
Philadelphia businessman John Hass ($12,500), trial lawyers Jacob and Goodman of Alamone Springs, Florida ($10,000) and retired Phillip Morris executive, George Weissman of Rye, New York are others.
Two union funds, UFCW, AFL-CIO and CWA COPE, the once progressive Communications Workers of America provided $25,000 each. Whether their members know they are part of an anti-civil rights effort is another story.
The Ballot Project has apparently invented a way to both fund and attack voter’s rights for the modern era without the mess of an electoral debate on the issues. The poll tax and violence in white sheets as deterrents to voting are gone with the wind. But a preemptive attack on an anti-corporate candidate who is modestly funded can be accomplished without much complaint from onlookers if some, like Nader’s fellow progressives, have an axe to grind and an efficient smear machine is used simultaneously to provide a public rationale for the attack on democracy.
Stephen Conn is a retired Professor of Justice at the University of Alaska.
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