Last week, folks passing by the UNM campus near Popejoy Hall had a chance to support Ralph Nader for president and register to vote at the same time, thanks to the hard working efforts of two women. To be sure, their purpose was colored in patriotism. Small, novelty store American flags were taped to nearby lamp posts and the card table that served as their base of operation sported a stars and stripes table cloth.
As pedestrians passed by, the women—one who sported spandex and big hair the likes you would otherwise not find on the Albuquerque campus, the other a possible stand-in for actress Kathy Bates—beseeched folks to sign-on to put "the independent Ralph Nader" on the ballot in New Mexico.
Noticing the petitioners were not handing out Nader brochures, pins, bumper stickers or information of any kind pertaining to his candidacy, Paul Suozzi, a UNM employee and supporter of Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, said he "knew right away something fishy was going on." When Suozzi asked one of the petitioners if she was a Nader supporter the answer, he said, was no.
"They said they worked for a marketing firm with money coming from the Republican Party," Suozzi said. “I believe in forthright and frank presentation not this duplicity going on here."
According to UNM Student Services, last week a representative of Florida-based JSM Inc.—a marketing firm with known ties to GOP donors and consultants that specializes in gathering petition signatures—completed the "activity clearance form" to petition for Nader signatures on UNM's campus. At that time, the representative told Student Services' staff that she was working for the Republican Party.
According to a KUNM news report, another employee believed he was working for the Republican Party and admitted he hoped Nader's campaign would help George W. Bush get elected. However, JSM petitioners, who are also working at area Wal-Marts and in the Downtown area, are not divulging this information to the public unless asked.
JSM's petitioners are flown in from out of state, housed in local hotels and paid between $1 and $3 per signature, according to an employee seeking signatures in the Downtown area last week. The employee said he is nonpartisan and just doing his job.
Meanwhile, Kevin Zeese, Nader's campaign spokesman, said JSM's New Mexico petitioners are being paid solely by the Nader campaign. The company is only hired to collect signatures, he said, and petitioners are not supposed to talk to the media or pass along information about Nader's candidacy. Zeese added that the Nader campaign was not concerned about the party affiliations of these “professionals.”
"I'm sure there is a mix of people that are being paid, and not all of them are Republicans," said Zeese. "We just want them to ask for signatures. The campaign will begin after Ralph gets on the ballot."
Zeese called the Albuquerque news reports quoting JSM employees who said they supported Bush and worked for the GOP "bizarre." And as of Friday, Aug. 13, Zeese said he had not spoken with Jenny Breslin, JSM's owner, about the matter. Breslin did not return Alibi phone calls and Zeese stated that the Nader campaign discourages her from talking to the press.
Zeese also said news reports about Republicans giving Nader financial support have been "amazingly exaggerated."
A July 16 article in the Las Vegas Sun reported that Steve Wark, a Republican campaign consultant and former state party executive director, worked with JSM in Nevada to get Nader on the ballot. "Wark raised $30,000—from friends and Republicans like the state party chairwoman—to pay for the signature-gathering effort for Nader," the article states.
Once Breslin arrived in Nevada she contacted Wark and told him to send the money to a nonprofit organization in Missouri, Choices For America, which then passed it on to JSM, the Sun reported. The petition drive worked after 20 JSM employees were flown into Nevada from California, earning as much as $3 per signature, after collecting more than 10,000.
The article also quotes Zeese saying that the Nader campaign paid JSM $15,000 for the Nevada petition drive. As for the idea that Republicans were also involved, Zeese said, "The more I think about the story, the less it makes sense."
While the Nader campaign's $15,000 does not add up to the total cost spent on JSM employees in Nevada, the total amount spent on petitioners is difficult to trace. Choices for America's nonprofit designation "is given to organizations that do social work and education, so it does not have to file federal campaign information," the Sun reported.
When the Alibi showed the Sun article to Carol Miller, Nader's New Mexico volunteer coordinator who ran for the Green Party presidential nomination earlier this year, she said, "It actually strikes me as a nonstory, there was not much there."
As for the New Mexico Republican Party, executive director Greg Graves said, "I don't know who these (JSM) folks are. We haven't had any contact with the Nader campaign."
Of course, New Mexicans should recall former GOP state party chair John Dendahl offered to hand-deliver $100,000 to the Green Party two years ago, hoping the money would fund a third candidate in the District One congressional race. Dendahl was upfront about his involvement in the plan (the Greens denied the offer), telling the Alibi at the time, "It's not a dirty trick, it's a new strategy."
Graves also said he didn't oppose the idea of citizens giving funds to more than one presidential candidate. "We need more money in the process," he said, "But I want the money to be raised and spent in an honest, open way."
When the Alibi attempted to interview the aforementioned women last week, one said she was just doing her job and wasn't allowed to talk to the media, while the other threatened to call the police if she was asked any questions or had her picture taken.
When asked if they were Nader supporters, one said "no," the other said "yes" and then the two briefly had a shrewish moment amongst themselves. They would not reveal their names, but said they worked for JSM and I would need to talk to "Jenny." When asked if JSM Inc. was financially backed by Bush supporters, one woman said yes and the other said no.
Right then, along came Colin Donoghue, a 24-year-old political science major. He was happy to sign the petition, because he said he thought there should be more than two choices on the ballot.
Donoghue, it turned out, has impeccable environmentalist credentials (co-chair of UNM Students for Clean Energy) and voted for Nader in 2000. But this year he said he supports Kerry. He blithely signed the petition anyway and went on his way, but, upon the Alibi's request, returned to ask the petitioner to explain if she was actually supporting George W. Bush.
"Go away," said the Bates look alike. And he did.
So why didn't he ask to have his name removed from the list?
"Well, I do want to support a third party, not the Republican Party," Donoghue said. "But I think it's a shame that the important issues are clouded in politics."
As it stands today, Republican President George W. Bush, Democrat Sen. John Kerry and Libertarian Michael Badnarik are the only names to appear on the Nov. 2 presidential ballot in New Mexico. (According to a Rasmussen Poll dated Aug. 5, Kerry led Bush and Badnarik by 50 percent to 43 percent to 5 percent statewide).
Carol Miller, though, said Nader has already gathered more than 25,000 signatures in New Mexico and plans to gather thousands more in the next two weeks. Nader must submit 14,527 signatures, which equals 3 percent of the votes cast in the 2002 gubernatorial election, to the Secretary of State's office by Sept. 7.
"Why would Republicans invest their money on petitions when we know we are going to have more than enough signatures in New Mexico?" she said.
Meanwhile, as of Friday, Aug. 13, Ralph Nader's name will appear as an independent candidate on ballots in New Jersey, Nevada, Arkansas and South Dakota. Of the four, all are swing states except South Dakota, which strongly supported Bush in 2000. Nader has also filed federal lawsuits in an attempt to get on the ballot as the Reform Party candidate in Michigan, Illinois and Texas.
According to the Associated Press in Michigan (another swing state), the majority of 50,000 signatures submitted on Nader's behalf came from the Michigan Republican Party.
All in all, Kevin Zeese said Nader hopes to be on the ballot in 47 states by the Nov. 2 election, having only given up on Georgia, Oklahoma and Indiana as of last week.