Some polls have indicated that Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader might capture as much as 10 percent of the votes next November. It is taken for granted that most of his votes will be taken away from Al Gore, but Nader, in his acceptance speech aired on C-SPAN on June 25, made a strong overt appeal to conservatives.
He talks about the need for patriotism in a global economy dominated by multinationals and criticizes big corporations for marketing sex, violence and psychiatric drugs to children. In the past, Nader has held news conferences with conservatives to protest the activities of international agencies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO), and he has talked about the necessity of maintaining U.S. sovereignty.
As a result of his becoming a presidential candidate, we have learned that Nader has done more than embrace some conservative ideas. He has become a capitalist. The corporation basher has been wheeling and dealing in the stock market, amassing a fortune of nearly $4 million in the process. He may not like big corporations, but like many other, he finds them attractive investments.
This media icon who has supposedly put the public interest ahead of any personal gain now appears to be as phony as a family-values politician who cheats on his wife. But Nader apparently believes he can weather any media storm. His relatively strong showing in the polls, despite having spent next to nothing so far, can be attributed to his carefully cultivated image. His emergence as a millionaire tarnishes that forever.
There won’t be any more coal miners like the one that according to the Washington Post willed his tiny estate to the man who is famous for wearing rumpled suits and not owning a house or car. The coal miner thought Nader was destitute. Nader, who makes as much as $15,000 for a speech and has earned $200,000 to $300,000 a year for 30 years, didn’t need the miner’s money.
The masquerade is over, but Nader is still being described as a “consumer advocate” by the establishment media. Investor’s Business Daily came up with a better term: “Market Guru.” Don Lambro in the Washington Times simply labeled Nader a successful capitalist. His devoted followers may resent his disingenuous claim that money is of no interest to him and ask why he didn’t encourage them to invest in America.
Those who watched the C-SPAN coverage of the Green Party convention got a special treat before Nader’s speech. Because of technical problems, C-SPAN’s coverage of the proceedings was disrupted and the network re-aired an interview of Nader that had been taped in May before his stock dealings were revealed. Nader’s answers were very interesting in light of what we now know.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had described him as a lawyer, author, consumer advocate, full-time citizen and corporate dragon-slayer. Nader was asked, “Which of those would best describe you?” He replied that he preferred “full-time citizen” and expressed the hope that he would draw more people into the political process. While we had a “booming economy,” he said many people were being left behind and that public services were in disrepair. “We have huge disparities in wealth-staggering-more than any other Western country,” said the secret millionaire. “The top one percent of the richest people in this country have financial wealth equal to the bottom 95 percent of Americans.” Nader is in that one percent.
Another questions was: “You’re working for a newspaper. The editor says do a piece on Ralph Nader. What would you write?” The most newsworthy story would have been that “Citizen Nader” owned stock valued at more than $1 million while leading America to think that he disdained wealth and detested the selfishness of the profit-motivated corporate world. But Nader said the story he would write was that he was campaigning in 50 states across the country, including at homeless shelters. The following exchange then took place:
C-SPAN: Can you make a living doing this?
Nader: Well, not during the presidential campaign. But I never worried about making a living. I don’t spend that much on myself. Most of the money that I raise goes into the projects over the years-consumer projects, investigative projects, and other worthwhile efforts…
C-SPAN: One of the stories, and this is a couple of years ago, said that you were living on about $15,000 a year. Is that accurate?
Nader: About $25,000 now. I work all the time. I don’t have time to be a jetsetter. But I have to raise funds for our projects….
C-SPAN: Personal money? Not important?
Nader: No. Not important. Money is important. Through lectures and writing I raise funds. It’s for the various projects and we have a reserve for the future as well.
There was not a hint in this interview in May that Ralph Nader personally owned millions of dollars worth of stock. He mentioned “lectures and writing” but not the stock market. During the many years that he has been leading his anti-corporate campaign, he never advised Americans to invest in the corporate world he was vilifying. Such advice might have been perceived as inconsistent with his message. He secretly joined the 80 million or so Americans who have investments in the financial markets. The difference is that Nader, a public figure with a huge following, thought it necessary to conceal it.
Messengers Of His Choice
Nader’s revelation of his personal fortune should be seen as vindication of conservative critics who had long suspected that his professed personal poverty was phony. Back in 1990, Forbes magazine ran a story, “Saint Ralph and his Web of Interests.” It asserted that Nader ran a secretive “autocracy” of left-wing groups, that he was financially well-off, and that he was cozy with trial lawyers. Nader called the article “malicious” and “amateurish.” The new revelations indicate that Forbes was on the right track.
His decision to reveal some aspects of his personal financial affairs was required by his presidential candidacy. He filed a financial disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission. He demonstrated his mastery of the media by giving interviews about this to two friendly newspapers. The reporters he picked were Paul West of the Baltimore Sun and Mike Allen of the Washington Post. He served as his own spinmeister, telling West, “It’s going to be interesting to see how the press plays this. Because it’s, I don’t mind saying, it’s a remarkable record. I don’t mind saying I love living in a country that facilitates this.” That was a new note for Ralph Nader. The story was played prominently, and Nader no doubt liked it.
Both the Sun and Post highlighted Nader’s claim that he funnels the bulk of the money he makes into non-profit organizations, and that he personally lives on only $25,000 a year. But both papers also noted that he refuses to make his income tax returns public, as George W. Bush and Al Gore have done. Nader said to do so would be a violation of his privacy. The papers failed to draw the obvious conclusion-that Nader’s claim that fully 80 percent of his earnings go into non-profit organizations could not be independently verified. Nader retains $15,000 or $25,000 of his income for his personal use, but he has more than $2 million in money market funds. It is probably true that Nader gives the bulk of his fees from speaking and writing to the many nonprofit organizations he founded or controls. There is nothing wrong with that. Indeed, it is commendable, but that makes his refusal to release his income tax returns all the more difficult to understand.
Nader told Paul West of the Baltimore Sun that “he invests only in companies he considers socially conscious, based on what they produce and how they treat their workers. He avoids those, like General Motors, that he is actively campaigning against.” The Post identified Nader stock holdings in Cadence Design Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., ComCorp Inc., Iomega Corp., and Ziff-Davis Inc. Nader told the Post that he chose “the most neutral-type companies.” He explained, “Number one, they’re not monopolists and number two, they don’t produce land mines, napalm, weapons.”
The Baltimore Sun noted that Nader, who opposed the China trade bill paving the way for the communist country’s membership in the WTO, has invested in Cisco, “a major beneficiary of China’s pending entry” into the WTO. “Just this week,” West reported, “Cisco’s chief executive, John Chambers, said in Beijing that the company’s 15 manufacturing partners would provide $650 million worth of parts this year to Cisco, whose rapidly growing sales in China are approaching a half-billion dollars a year.”
Nader told West that he invested in Cisco about 2 years ago, and that the stock price has shot up by more than seven times. All you had to do, Nader told him, was “read the papers, since everybody said this was an unbelievably well-managed, innovative” company. This is certainly true, but neither West nor any other journalist, to our knowledge, has asked Nader what he knows about the treatment of the workers who produce all those parts for Cisco.
Cisco’s China Connection
In 1998, Cisco CEO Chambers met with Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin and declared, “As a business leader I would like to express my thanks to President Jiang for his leadership role in the recent Asian financial crisis. I would also like to reaffirm Cisco Systems’ long-term commitment to China, with continued investments in the form of technology laboratories, Cisco Networking Academy education program, joint research and development programs, and local manufacturing alliances. Through these investments, we aim to cooperate with the Chinese government in training a new generation of knowledge workers who can take on the challenges of the emerging Internet Economy.”
In return, according to a Cisco press release, “President Jiang Zemin wished Cisco continued success in China, and re-emphasized his desire to see further cooperation between the Chinese government and Cisco Systems, as part of his government’s efforts to strengthen the IT [information technology] industry and further accelerate the pace of modernization.” The release continued, “Cisco is the largest networking company in China, and has enjoyed tremendous growth in this market, achieving a year-on-year revenue growth of over 100 percent for the past two years. Over the last 12 months, Cisco has increased its China staff by 500 percent, and continues to invest heavily in this country.”
While Nader was investing in Cisco, his Public Citizen organization was lobbying against the China trade bill, blasting members of the U.S.-China Business Council and other advocates of more trade with China. “Congress has sold out to corporate interests to help them rake in even bigger profits by giving China a blank check,” declared Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook. “When American businesses look to China, they see dollar signs.” She may not have known that Ralph Nader was one of those profiting from an American corporation’s trade with China.
Nader defended his Cisco investment, saying, “Put your money in the local bank and you’re hooked into Beijing, one way or the other. They’re all hooked in. You live in a capitalist society.” That is not what he was saying in opposing the permanent normalization of U.S. trade relations with China. Cisco’s involvement in China is not just an accidental consequence of the global economy. The worldwide leader in networking for the Internet, Cisco has been working on projects that largely benefit government entities, such as the Civil Aviation Administration of China.
The American Foreign Policy Council notes that the Chinese government has issued harsh new regulations for users of the Internet that will punish distribution or consumption of “harmful information” with stiff fines or prison terms. The Washington Post has reported that a law there “brings the Communist government’s tough restrictions on the freedom of expression into the computer age-targeting the country’s growing on-line community.” The Post observed that, “while viewing the Internet as an essential economic development tool…for years, the government has blocked access to Internet sites they find objectionable, including those run by human rights organizations and Taiwanese and Hong Kong news-papers.” The American Foreign Policy Council says, “The new rules ban any Internet usage that ‘defames government agencies,’ impedes public order or ‘damages state interests,’ according to reports in state-run media. Both Internet service providers and consumers can be held liable. The measure calls for Net providers to accept supervision by security officials and to help track down violators.”
“If it turns out someday that Cisco is guilty of irresponsible corporate behavior, I’ll blast them,” Nader told Paul West. He doesn’t appear to have been looking for it very hard.
On CNN’s Inside Politics, Judy Woodruff asked Nader about his investment in Cisco and its trade in China, and he replied, “I don’t mind trade with China in non-weapons and non-toxic materials.” Ignoring Cisco’s growing investment in China, Nader said it was somehow different than “multinational U.S. corporations who are taking factories and setting factories over there.” Woodruff moved on to other matters, leaving Nader’s curious answers to be sorted out by others.
On NBC’s Meet the Press on June 25, Tim Russert interviewed Nader, ignoring Cisco’s China connection but asking him to explain his investment in a company that appears to be more of a monopoly than Microsoft, now the subject of a federal judge’s order to be broken up. Quoting from an article in Salon, the Internet magazine, Russert said, “Cisco controls a bit more than half of the overall data-networking market but has, for example, 89 percent of the market for high-end routers…Cisco does pursue many policies aimed at locking in its dominance of the router market and freezing out other competitors. Its market power is so great that three of its strongest competitors have simply dropped out of the running in the last year…Cisco’s Washington lobbying has been concentrated on objectives like making it harder for disgruntled shareholders to sue their companies-something Nader and his various groups have vociferously opposed. It has also focused on passing legislation to issue more H1-B visas to foreign workers, while Nader has taken a strong stand against the visas.”
Russert asked him, “With your million dollars in Cisco stock, have you insisted with Cisco management that they not pursue policies that you have publicly found objectionable?” Continuing to evade, Nader replied that he had opposed those policies for all companies, not just Cisco, and he returned to the refrain about how he had committed his funds “overwhelmingly” to citizen groups, foundations and “social justice” organizations. He again cited the 80 percent figure. No other presidential candidate could “match” such altruism, he claimed.
Russert said: “But you would criticize a traditional politician for not being more aggressive against corporate America. Why don’t you speak out against Cisco even though you have these holdings?” Nader’s evasive response: “I have spoken out against Silicon Valley, of which Cisco is a part.” He then offered to create a “special task force to monitor Cisco.”
The Salon article by Joshua Micah Marshall was careful to say that it “appears” Nader has given away 80 percent of his income. This qualification is necessary because it is clear that Nader’s word cannot be totally relied upon and he refuses to release his tax returns. Marshall also called Cisco an “odd” choice for Nader because of its controversial activities and policies.
“So what does the Nader campaign have to say about all this?” Marshall asked. “When I raised the charges of Cisco’s monopolistic practices with Nader spokesman Teresa Amato, she asked whether any of the government inquiries into Cisco’s behavior had resulted in sanctions or prosecutions. They hadn’t, but then that’s setting the bar rather low, isn’t it? And what about Cisco’s lobbying for legislation that Nader has strenuously opposed? ‘We don’t know anything about that,’ she told me. ‘Send us whatever information you have. I am sure if we found out anything about that, Ralph would take appropriate action.'” Nader and his associates are now in the position of depending on others for information about a corporation that he personally invests in even though they are in the business of investigating corporate America.
The Microsoft Campaign
It is ironic that Nader has made a fortune by investing in the high-tech sector, a part of the economy that has largely escaped the government regulation he has demanded for other industries. He and the Justice Department have campaigned against Microsoft on the ground that it is a monopoly that ought to be broken up. This campaign has depressed the price of Microsoft stock and has hurt the retirement accounts of those who had invested in the company. Now we know why Nader has not led a similar campaign against Cisco.
In July, 1998, Nader made a big splash in the press by issuing a letter to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates urging him to be more generous with his wealth. Nader complained about the “concentration of power and wealth” in society. Quoting from a book entitled, ‘The Ownership Solution,” Nader said, “Capitalism is very good at creating capital but terrible at creating capitalists.” Little did Gates or the public know that Nader was one of those capitalists helping to create what Nader himself called a “wealth disparity” in the U.S.
While Nader has postured as an individual fighting corporate greed, he has been involved with dozens of organizations whose legacy is an increase in the power of the federal government. He has a clear preference for Big Government over Big Business. Nader’s sympathizers in the Big Media have shown little interest in discussing this. Nader has avoided the term “socialist,” but he has advocated the complete restructuring of American society and urged the creation of a “consumer-owned economy.” Back in the 1970s, AIM went to Nader’s defense, debunking a claim that during a visit to Australia he had advocated a socialist or communist economic system. There is no evidence he has ever gone that far. In 1983, he disavowed the pro-socialist, pro-Cuban and anti-CIA views of an editor of Multinational Monitor, a magazine still published by Public Citizen. At first, Nader claimed the publication was independent of his control, even though was listed as owner in its own statement of circulation.
Nader’s network of public interest organizations calls out for media investigation. A 1982 book by Dan Burt, “Abuse of Trust: A Report on Ralph Nader’s Network,” scratched the surface. Burt’s research uncovered a network of 50 small corporations and organizations linked to Nader. It was not unlike the corporations and their subsidiaries that Nader likes to attack. Much of Burt’s book was an effort to document this secretive network, and he concluded, “Mr. Nader and his groups cannot have it both ways. On the one hand, they agitate for more and more corporate and governmental disclosure to the public. On the other, they do not feel a duty themselves to make such public disclosures.”
Today, those organizations include Public Citizen, the Health Research Group, Congress Watch, the Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, the Public Interest Research Groups, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
For someone highlighted as a “consumer advocate,” it is noteworthy but not apparently newsworthy that he pursues policies that harm consumers. He continues to talk about auto safety, and claims to have saved thousands of lives, although the air bags he once touted have proven to be killers of short women and young children. Nader may be best known for his opposition to nuclear energy. His successful campaign against this safe, environmentally-friendly form of energy production is one reason why the U.S. is increasingly dependent on foreign sources of oil for our energy needs today.
The last nuclear power plant built in this country was Shore-ham on Long Island, which was completed in 1984 but was never allowed to operate because of the irrational fear of nuclear power spread by Nader and others. His Public Citizen web site still claims that the nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl remind us of the dangers of nuclear power. It says that the death toll at Chernobyl is “ever growing.” No one died as a result of Three Mile Island. Only 45 of those who were in the Chernobyl plant or were sent in to contain the damage died in this worst nuclear power-plant accident in history. A lot of radiation escaped from the Chernobyl plant because it had no containment dome, but in 14 years there have been only three deaths from cancer caused by the fallout.
Nader’s hostility to anything nuclear extends to the food irradiation process, which could protect the public from illnesses caused by organisms like E. coli and salmonella in our food. On the day Nader accepted the Green Party presidential nomination, news services were reporting that the world’s largest meat packing company had recalled hundreds of tons of ground beef from the U.S. and Canada, fearing contamination by E. coli bacteria. But Nader’s Public Citizen continues to oppose the right of consumers to buy irradiated meat. On May 26, it also announced opposition to a government proposal to irradiate imported fruits and vegetables to prevent pests from spreading and destroying crops in this country. Ralph Nader has been influential, but his legacy has been anything but positive.