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Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader (born February 27, 1934) is an activist attorney who opposes the power of large corporations and has worked for decades on environmental, consumer rights, and pro-democracy issues. Nader has also been a strong critic of recent American foreign policy, which he views as corporatist, imperialist, and contrary to fundamental values of democracy and human rights.

Nader was the U.S. presidential candidate of the Green Party in the 1996 election and 2000 election. In both 1996 and 2000, Winona LaDuke was his vice-presidential running mate. In 2004, however, the Green Party nominated David Cobb, and Nader ran as an independent candidate in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. In some states in 2004, Nader achieved ballot access by virtue of winning the nomination of an alternative political party, such as the Reform Party, and in others by forming a Populist Party. His vice-presidential running mate in 2004 was Green Party activist Peter Camejo.


Early career

Ralph Nader was born in Winsted, Connecticut. His parents, Nathra and Rose Nader, were Lebanese immigrants. He has three siblings: Shafeek (deceased), Laura (Professor of Anthropology at UC Berkeley), and Claire Nader. His father was employed in a nearby textile mill and at one point owned a bakery and restaurant where he engaged customers in discussions of political issues.

Ralph graduated from Princeton University in 1955 and Harvard Law School in 1958. During his time at Princeton, it was rumoured that he had his own key to the main library. He served in the United States Army for six months in 1959, then began work as a lawyer in Hartford. [Current Biography] in 1986 reported that when he left the Army in 1959, Nader, who is famous for his personal frugality and his objection to commercialism, made one last visit to the Army PX and purchased twelve pairs of shoes and four dozen sturdy cotton military issue socks, which, as of the mid-1980's, he had not yet worn out. Between 1961 and 1963, he was a Professor of History and Government at the University of Hartford. In 1963, Nader hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. and got a job working for then-Assistant Secretary of Labor Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He later did freelance writing for The Nation and the Christian Science Monitor. He also advised a Senate subcommittee on automobile safety. In the early 1980s, Nader spearheaded a powerful lobby against FDA approval allowing for mass-scale experimentation of artificial lens implants.

Clash with the automobile industry

In 1965 he released Unsafe at Any Speed, a study claiming that many American automobiles, especially those of General Motors, were fundamentally flawed. GM tried to discredit Nader, hiring private detectives to investigate his past and attempt to trap him in a compromising situation, but the effort failed. Upon learning of this harassment, Nader successfully sued the company for invasion of privacy, forced it to publicly apologize, and used much of his $284,000 net settlement to expand his consumer rights efforts. Nader's lawsuit against GM was ultimately decided by the high Court of New York, whose opinion in the case expanded the privacy rights that can be remedied in tort. Nader v. General Motors Corp., 307 N.Y.S.2d 647 (N.Y. 1970).

Activist movement

Hundreds of young activists, inspired by Nader's work, came to DC to help him with other projects. They came to be known as "Nader's Raiders" and, led by Nader, they investigated corruption throughout government, publishing dozens of books with their results:

  • Nader's Raiders (Federal Trade Commission)
  • Vanishing Air (National Air Pollution Control Administration )
  • The Chemical Feast (Food and Drug Administration)
  • The Interstate Commerce Omission (Interstate Commerce Commission)
  • Old Age (nursing homes)
  • The Water Lords (water pollution)
  • Who Runs Congress? (congress)
  • Whistle Blowing (punishment of whistle blowers)
  • The Big Boys (corporate executives)
  • Collision Course (Federal Aviation Administration)
  • No Contest (corporate lawyers)
  • Destroy the Forest (Destruction of ecosystems worldwide)
  • Operation:Nuclear (Making of a Nuclear Missile)

In 1971, Nader founded the NGO Public Citizen as an umbrella organization for these projects. Today, Public Citizen has over 150,000 members and numerous researchers investigating Congress, health, environmental, economic, and other issues. Their work is credited with helping to pass the Safe Drinking Water Act and Freedom of Information Act and prompting the creation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Their various divisions include:

  • Buyers Up
  • Citizen Action Group
  • Congress Watch
  • Critical Mass Energy Project
  • Global Trade Watch
  • Health Research Group
  • Litigation Group
  • Tax Reform Research Group
  • The Visitor's Center

Non-profit organizations

In 1980 Nader resigned as director of Public Citizen to work on other projects, especially campaigning against the believed dangers of large multinational corporations. He went on to start a variety of non-profit organizations:

  • Capitol Hill News Service
  • Corporate Accountability Research Project
  • Disability Rights Center
  • Equal Justice Foundation
  • Georgia Legal Watch
  • National Citizens' Coalition for Nursing Home Reform
  • National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest
  • PROD (truck safety)
  • Retired Professionals Action Group
  • The Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest
  • Congress Accountability Project
  • Citizen Advocacy Center
  • Pension Rights Center
  • Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights
  • Center for Auto Safety
  • 1955: Princeton Project 55
  • 1969: Center for the Study of Responsive Law
  • 1970s: Public Interest Research Groups
  • 1970: Connecticut Citizen Action Group
  • 1971: Center for Science in the Public Interest
  • 1971: Aviation Consumer Action Project
  • 1972: Clean Water Action Project
  • 1972: Center for Women's Policy Studies
  • 1980: Multinational Monitor (magazine covering multinational corporations)
  • 1982: Trial Lawyers for Public Justice
  • 1982: Essential Information (encourage citizen activism and do investigative journalism)
  • 1983: Telecommunications Research and Action Center
  • 1993: Appleseed Foundation (local change)
  • 1994: Resource Consumption Alliance (conserve trees)
  • 1995: Center for Insurance Research
  • 1995: Consumer Project on Technology
  • 1997?: Government Purchasing Project (encourage the government to purchase safe and healthy products)
  • 1998: Center for Justice and Democracy
  • 1998: Organization for Competitive Markets
  • 1998: American Antitrust Institute (ensure fair competition)
  • 1999?: Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest
  • 1999?: Commercial Alert (protect family, community, and democracy from corporations)
  • 2000: Congressional Accountability Project (fight corruption in Congress)
  • 2001?: League of Fans (sports industry watchdog)
  • 2001: Citizen Works (promote NGO cooperation, build grassroots support, and start new groups)
  • 2001: Democracy Rising (hold rallies to educate and empower citizens)

Consumer advocacy, public interest, and civic action

Because much of his early work involved advocacy to protect consumers (and workers) from unsafe products, Ralph Nader is often referred to as a "consumer advocate." This description should not be misunderstood to suggest that Nader is an advocate of consumption. On the contrary, his message of civic engagement (citizen activism in the public interest), like his harsh critique of "rapacious" corporations, calls for resistance to commercially-driven consumer culture. According to Nader, mass advertising creates artificial and often harmful desires. Nader's "consumer" should not be conceived as a free-spending shopper, but rather as an active participant in democratic institutions. For example, in his critique of television news as largely empty sensationalism, Nader acknowledges that most Americans may have been trained to behave as passive "consumers" of what passes for news, but Nader's call for engagement urges citizens to work together to organize community-based news production.

Presidential aspirations


Nader considered launching a third party around issues of citizen empowerment and consumer rights. He stated that the Democratic Party had become "so bankrupt, it doesn't matter if it wins any elections." He suggested a serious third party could address needs such as campaign-finance reform, worker and whistle-blower rights, government-sanctioned watchdog groups to oversee banks and insurance agencies, and class-action lawsuit reforms.


Nader waged a minor write-in campaign for "None of the Above" in the 1992 New Hampshire primary, which had the unintended effect of resulting in a few thousand votes for Nader himself.


Nader was drafted as a candidate for President on the Green Party ticket in the U.S. presidential election, 1996. He was not formally nominated by the Green Party USA, which was, at the time, the largest national Green group; instead he was nominated independently by various state Green parties (in some areas, he appeared on the ballot as an independent). However, many activists in the Greens/Green Party USA worked actively to campaign for Nader in 1996. Nader qualified for ballot status in relatively few states, garnering less than 1% of the vote, though the effort did make significant organizational gains for the party. He refused to raise or spend more than $5,000 on his campaign, presumably to avoid meeting the threshold for Federal Elections Commission reporting requirements; the unofficial Draft Nader committee could (and did) spend more than that, but was legally prevented from coordinating in any way with Nader himself.


Nader ran again in 2000 as the candidate of the Green Party of the United States, which had been formed in the wake of his 1996 campaign. This time he received almost 3% of the popular vote, missing the 5% needed to qualify the Green Party for federal matching funds in the next election.

The exclusion of Nader and other third-party candidates from events staged by the bi-partisan controlled Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) contributed to the marginalization of those candidates and helped minimize their support on election day. This issue led to an effort to build a more independent Citizens' Debate Commission.

Nader campaigned against the pervasiveness of corporate power and spoke on the need for campaign finance reform, environmental justice, universal healthcare, affordable housing, free education through college, workers' rights, legalization of commercial hemp, and a shift in taxes to place the burden more heavily on corporations than on the middle and lower classes. He opposed pollution credits that make it more profitable to pollute than conserve, and giveaways of publicly-owned assets.

The extremely close race between the two major presidential candidates, Al Gore and Bush, helped to create some additional controversy around the Nader campaign. Before the election, a number of those who supported Gore claimed that since Nader had no realistic chance of winning, those who supported the Nader platform should nevertheless vote for Gore, the theory being that a victory for Gore was preferable to a victory for George W. Bush, even if an individual voter might, in a perfect world, prefer Nader. Late in the campaign, the Gore campaign got prominent liberal celebrities to present this argument to voters in swing states. Nader and many of his supporters, however, claimed that while Gore was perhaps marginally preferable to Bush, the differences between the two were not great enough to merit support of Gore.

When challenged with complaints that he was taking away votes from Al Gore, Nader replied that the voters who preferred Nader did not "belong" to Gore, and that it would be more accurate to say that Gore was trying to take away votes from Nader, by scaring voters into voting for the lesser of two evils. Nader suggested at times that his campaign was offering a chance to save the Democratic Party, and at other times, made the contradictory argument that the party was not worth saving. When Nader argued that he would hold the Democrats' "feet to the fire," he was suggesting that he wanted to move the Democratic Party in a more progressive direction. However, at other moments Nader said that, because the Democratic Party had slid so low and had become so beholden to corporate power, the Democratic Party deserved to go the way of the Whigs. Running as the Green Party's nominee in 2000, Nader indicated that he would support Green candidates who ran against even the most progressive Democrats, such as Paul Wellstone and Russ Feingold.

As it turned out, Nader's vote total exceeded Bush's margin over Gore in Florida (as did each other third party candidate's) and in New Hampshire, which meant that, all else being the same, Gore would have won the Electoral College vote (and thus the presidency) if even a small fraction (as little as 1%) of Nader's supporters in Florida had instead voted for Gore, or if a larger fraction of the Nader supporters in New Hampshire had done so. Nader supporters said that many Nader voters would not have voted at all if Nader had not been on the ballot. Regardless, many analysts believed that a substantial number of Nader supporters would more likely have chosen Gore over Bush. Even Nader stated, both in his book Crashing the Party, and also on his website: "In the year 2000, exit polls reported that 25% of my voters would have voted for Bush, 38% would have voted for Gore and the rest would not have voted at all." [1]) Most political analysts and experts believe that Nader's presence on the ballot in Florida in 2000 was one of many factors which combined to cause Bush to win the election. For their part, Nader supporters countered that, instead of blaming Nader, Gore should accept responsibility because Gore's own failure to win his home state of Tennessee was a "but-for cause" of Gore's loss. uss Nader supporters maintained that the Democrats could handily have won the election against Bush (whom Nader referred to during the campaign as "a giant corporation masquerading as a human being"), with a better campaign or with a better candidate than Gore, who they say made a series of blunders throughout the campaign, including in his debates against George W. Bush. Nader supporters said that Gore's campaign themes were largely a creature of the "centrist" and corporate-supported Democratic Leadership Council, which had once been chaired by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. The U.S. presidential election, 2000 was hounded by the Florida situation, and some Nader supporters suggested that if the Democratic Party was so eager to blame someone else in order to avoid responsibility for losing the election, perhaps the Democrats should blame the Supreme Court for calling a halt to the Florida recount, thereby effectively declaring Bush the winner.

Some voters had attempted to minimize the "spoiler" problem by engaging in strategic "vote-pairing," or so-called Nader trading , in which Nader-inclined voters in swing states would agree to vote for Gore in exchange for Gore-inclined voters in safe Bush states to vote for Nader. This strategic idea, which was championed by law professor Jamin Raskin, was based on the observation that, under the electoral college system, individual votes for a losing presidential candidate within a given state (or individual "surplus" votes for the winner within a state) are necessarily wasted. Even though "Nader trading" had the theoretical potential to allow Al Gore to win the election and at the same time to earn the Green Party the 5% that would lead to a possible award of FEC party convention funding, Nader himself declined to endorse the "vote-trading" idea in 2000. Nader and his campaign explained that they were running in every state and that they were encouraging voters to vote according to conscience.

The "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush" slogan, which supporters of Gore urged against Nader, was an instance of the so-called spoiler effect phenomenon, in an election where more than two candidates are running and it is feared that the presence of more than one candidate with relatively similar views will split the vote that is cast "against" another candidate, who becomes the beneficiary of the split vote. Such fears often plague third-party or independent candidates, especially those perceived as likely to draw most of their support from demographics who would otherwise support one or the other candidate. Thus, Gore supporters tried to persuade voters who preferred Nader to vote for Gore in order to prevent the election of the "greater evil" (referring to Bush). Some Democrats attempted to convert those who supported Nader by claiming that doing so made them "dupes" of the Republican party.

Ironically, Greens in some states turned on supporters of David McReynolds, the Socialist Party USA candidate in the 2000 race, and used similar tactics to try to push McReynolds supporters to "get in line" and support Nader. (Despite what their supporters argued, there was no evidence that Nader and McReynolds had anything other than a 'friendly-foe' respect for each other.)

The "spoiler" problem is endemic to the First Past the Post electoral system; according to Duverger's Law, such a voting method naturally results in a two-party system. Some, such as Democrat Dennis Kucinich, advocate approval voting or instant runoff voting to address the spoiler effect. Nader has made strong statements in favor of electoral reforms and it was included in Nader's list of 2004 campaign issues.

But since, in the long run, both the Democratic and Republican parties appear to be net beneficiaries of the existing state of affairs, and because the major parties control state legislatures, many commentators conclude that electoral reform legislation to make the voting system more representative is highly improbable - unless of course at least one major party begins to suffer because of the lack of reform.


Main article: Ralph Nader presidential campaign, 2004

Nader announced on December 24, 2003 that he would not run for president in 2004 on the Green Party ticket; however, he did not rule out running as an independent. On February 22, 2004, Nader announced on NBC's Meet the Press that he would indeed run for president as an independent, saying, "There's too much power and wealth in too few hands." Because of the controversies over vote-splitting in 2000, many Democrats urged Nader to abandon his candidacy. The Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terry McAuliffe argued that Nader had a "distinguished career, fighting for working families" and McAuliffe "would hate to see part of his legacy being that he got us eight years of George Bush."

On May 19, 2004, Nader met with John Kerry in Washington D.C. for a private session, concerning Nader's factor in the 2004 election. Nader refused to withdraw from the race, citing specifically the importance to him of the removal of troops from Iraq. The meeting itself ended in disagreement. On the same day, two Democratic leaning groups, the National Progress Fund and the Democracy Action Team, were formed. They both sought to reduce the effect of Nader upon Democratic voters that might be persuaded to vote for him. The following day, the Democracy Action Team's Stop Nader campaign announced they would air TV commercials in key battleground states.

On June 21, 2004, Nader announced that Peter Camejo, a co-founder of the California Green Party, would be his vice presidential running mate. Shortly thereafter, Nader announced that he would accept (although he was not actively seeking) the endorsement, but not nomination, of the Greens as their presidential candidate. Later in June, however, the Green National Convention rejected Nader, whose supporters were voting for "nobody" (a.k.a. Ralph Nader), as a candidate in favor of David Cobb, an attorney and Green Party activist. Nader's failure to take the Green Party's nomination meant that he could not take advantage of the Green Party's ballot access in 22 states, and that he would have to achieve ballot access there independently.

Ballot access

On April 5, 2004, Nader failed in an attempt to get on the Oregon ballot. "Unwritten rules" disqualified over 700 valid voter signatures, all of which had already been verified by county elections officers, who themselves signed and dated every sheet with an affidavit of authenticity (often with a county seal as well). This subtraction left Nader 218 short of the 15,306 needed. He vowed to gather the necessary signatures in a petition drive. Secretary of State Bill Bradbury disqualified many of his signatures as fraudulent; the Marion County Circuit Court ruled that this action was unconstitutional as the criteria for Bradbury's disqualifications were based upon "unwritten rules" not found in electoral code, but the state Supreme Court ultimately reversed this ruling. Nader appealed this decision to the US Supreme Court, but a decision did not arrive before the 2004 election.

On September 18, 2004, the Florida Supreme Court ordered that Nader be included on the 2004 ballot in Florida as the Reform Party candidate. The court rejected the arguments that the Reform Party did not meet the requirements of the Florida election code for access to the ballot — that the party must be a "national party" and that it must have nominated its candidate in a "national convention" — and therefore Nader should have attempted to file as an independent candidate. Specifically, the court ruled that the term "national party" must be interpreted as broadly as possible. The Reform Party has a ballot line in only some U.S. states.

In the general election, Nader appeared on the ballot in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Ballot access ultimately became one of the most significant issues of the Nader campaign - in his concession speech, Nader characterized ballot access as a "civil liberties issue" and noted that Democratic attempts to challenge his ballot access were rejected in the "overwhelming majority" of state courts.

Effect on major-party candidates

The expectation among many analysts was that Nader’s candidacy would benefit Bush by taking more votes from Kerry than from Bush. Lending credence to that opinion, a Republican organization in Michigan worked to gather petition signatures to place Nader on the Michigan ballot after Democratic Party lawyers succeeded in having Nader thrown off the Michigan ballot as the Reform Party's nominee.

Democratic Party groups worried about the so-called "spoiler effect," such as "Up for Victory," were formed specifically to undermine and discredit Nader, and to knock him off the ballot in as many states as possible. These groups, as well as some journalists, pointed to FEC filings showing that the Nader campaign had accepted campaign contributions from several individual donors who were also contributing to Bush's campaign, including a donation from one individual who had helped to fund televised advertisements by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that attacked Kerry's military service record in the Vietnam War and Kerry's subsequent activity in the 1970's as a leader of the antiwar group Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Nader's campaign countered that John Kerry had received far more money in 2004 from individual Republican donors than Nader had, and that Nader was in fact not accepting organized Republican help.

An exception to Nader's refusal to accept organized Republican help was in Michigan, where the Democratic Party's legal challenge to remove Nader from the ballot (as the Reform Party's nominee) led the Nader campaign to say that it would, if necessary in order to keep Nader on the ballot in Michigan, accept ballot access petition signatures gathered by Republicans.

In Florida and several other states, Nader’s ballot access came because of his nomination by the Reform Party. The Reform Party nominee in 2000 had been conservative Pat Buchanan; some anti-Nader Democrats took this as evidence that Nader was being helped by supporters of Bush, but most conservatives had left the Reform Party after Buchanan's poor showing in 2000.

A group of Nader’s supporters from 2000 endorsed Vote to Stop Bush, a statement urging voters in swing states to vote for Kerry, in order to prevent a second term for President George W. Bush. Even Nader’s running mate in 1996 and 2000, Winona LaDuke, endorsed Kerry. Another approach was taken by “”, which gathered conditional contributions – pledges to donate to Public Citizen if Nader would withdraw from the race.

The Nader campaign contended that the donations it received were given by "people who agree with him on the issues and want him to get his message out to the public". Nader also responded to such claims by pointing out that Democratic opponent John Kerry received $10.7 million dollars from donors who also contributed to Bush or to some other Republican candidate - nearly 100 times that of the $111,700 Nader received.


Nader received many fewer votes than he had in 2000, dropping from about 2.9 million votes (2.74 percent of the popular vote) to just over 459,000 (less than 0.4 percent). As of December 1, 2004, with some write-in votes for Nader still not tallied in some of the 16 juridictions where Nader was not on the ballot (including California), Nader's vote total placed him only slightly more than 63,000 votes ahead of the fourth-place candidate, Michael Badnarik of the Libertarian Party, who appeared on 49 ballots. Fears that Nader would play a "spoiler" role that would harm the Democrats proved unfounded -- Kerry's margins of loss in states won by Bush were all substantially larger than the percentage of votes gathered by Nader.

Personal information

Nader has never been married. According to the mandatory financial disclosure report that he filed with the Federal Election Commission in 2000, he then owned more than $3 million worth of stocks and mutual fund shares; his single largest holding was more than $1 million worth of stock in Cisco Systems, Inc. [2] Nader's total net worth is between $4.1 million and $5 million. However, the consumer advocate has made more than $15 million in his lifetime, most of which he has given away.

Ralph Nader's lifestyle is unusually austere for an American celebrity (Nader has appeared on the NBC Saturday Night Live television show four times, including hosting the show January 15, 1977). Nader inhabits a modest apartment in Washington DC, equipped with a black-and-white television, which he watches only rarely. His attention is focused on the work of his public interest crusades. Nader has donated the vast bulk of his earnings over his lifetime (from royalties, lectures, legal work, and so forth) to funding public interest causes.

Nader's harsh and uncompromising critiques of corporate and political wrongdoing have earned him a reputation as an angry and gloomy "national scold." Yet, despite this caricature, which no doubt reflects the seriousness and intensity with which Nader approaches his work, people well acquainted with Ralph Nader generally speak of his persistent optimism, his abiding sense of humor, and his unfailing wit.

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