Nader’s Slow Climb to $5 Million
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Absent were the black ties and evening gowns _ and the customary plates of chicken with rice and broccoli spears. At this political fund-raiser, jeans-clad contributors dipped into bowls of chips and salsa, raw vegetables and syrup-covered hemp seeds on a folding table at the side of a conference room.
At $100 per person, the Madison, Wis., reception was among the more expensive events for Ralph Nader. The longshot Green Party presidential candidate usually throws $10-a-pop events that have attracted crowds by the thousands and brought his campaign within reach of his $5 million fund-raising goal.
One such event was a Tuesday rally at the University of Illinois-Chicago that filled the 9,500 seat Pavilion. Another is scheduled for Friday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, although tickets to this celebrity-studded rally with actors Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Bill Murray and former talk-show host Phil Donahue are a bit steeper. The ``suggested donation″ is $20.
Nader is in the single digits in national polls, but the thousands he attracts to such events have helped his campaign raise, dollar by dollar, and with some assistance from federal matching funds, about $4.7 million. Perhaps a meager amount compared with the $35 million the Republicans raised last month alone, but Nader proudly boasts that not a single dime of his money has come from a corporation or political action committee.
``We’re going for individual contributions,″ Nader has said. ``We’re very frugal. We know how to get more out of a campaign dollar than Bush and Gore.″
The money drips in steadily. A $50 personal check, a $100 donation over the Internet. And then there are the stadium events.
Rarely do the $7 or $10 admission fees pay for more than cost, but they help get Nader’s name out. The real money comes in when organizers ``pass the hat″ at the rallies.
For instance, when 12,000 people went to the Target Center in Minneapolis, a Green Party official appeared on stage ahead of Nader to plead with supporters to dig into their wallets and ante up.
``Who in here is willing to give $1,000 tonight?″ said Dean Zimmerman, as he cupped his hands above his eyes to scan the crowd.
As volunteers passed brown cardboard boxes with slits cut in the tops up and down the arena aisles, Zimmerman reminded folks: ``There are no corporations for this campaign _ it’s up to you.″
And supporters came through. The boxes collected about $40,000. An additional $6,000 came in over the Web immediately after the rally, said Darci Andresen, Nader’s fund-raising chairwoman.
Campaign contributions average about $60, she said. Most come from direct mail solicitation. Web donations rank second, followed by the big rallies. One in Boston earlier this month raised $63,000 in floor donations alone.
The campaign also depends on volunteers to throw ``house parties″ around the country.
``An open discussion of the Nader candidacy _ skeptics welcome,″ read the invitation to a party by Kathryn Hoffman, a social worker in Allentown, Pa.
Hoffman and her husband had 40 people over last month for wine, cheese and some heavy discussion. They watched a videotape of Nader and by night’s end had distributed dozens of campaign signs, buttons and bumper stickers.
Hoffman, who wrote in Nader’s name on the ballot in 1996, said that had she not learned the campaign was promoting house parties, ``I would have otherwise sent a check.″
And one that probably would have been a lot smaller than the $1,055 her party raised.
``Maybe to you that doesn’t sound like much, or to a lobbyist that might be lunch for 10 people, but for me and my husband, that’s a lot of money to raise,″ Hoffman said.
``Every little bit counts. It all goes to show this is definitely a grass-roots campaign,″ she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE _ Associated Press Writer Ashley Grant in Minneapolis contributed to this report.