Anti-tax leader poised to help Nader

The leader of a Republican-leaning anti-tax group says his organization is ready to jump in and collect petition signatures to help Ralph Nader win a spot on Oregon’s presidential ballot.

Russ Walker of Citizens for a Sound Economy said Tuesday the group’s goal would be to draw votes away from Democrat John Kerry to help President Bush win this battleground state.

Walker’s offer of help in gathering signatures could be a big boost to Nader, who has been struggling to meet an Aug. 24 deadline to qualify for a spot on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Citizens for a Sound Economy was instrumental in putting together the signature drive and campaign that led to the drubbing of the Legislature’s $800 million tax hike in a Feb. 3 special election.

In the aftermath of that vote, Walker’s group has gathered a list of 170,000 people who signed petitions to get the tax referral on the ballot — all of them potential contributors or volunteers for future campaigns.

Walker said he anticipates his group’s volunteers would have little problem collecting the petition signatures that Nader needs to win a spot on Oregon’s presidential ballot.

“It can be done,” he said. “We will work within the limitations of the law to make it happen.”

Oregon Democrats fear that in a close race between Bush and Kerry, Nader could play a spoiler’s role and throw the state’s seven electoral votes to Bush.

Neel Pender, executive director of the Democratic Party of Oregon, said it’s “shameful” for the 70-year-old consumer activist to accept help from Republican-leaning groups just to get on the ballot.

“It’s become a charade to get Ralph Nader on the ballot,” Pender said. “But I think people will understand that a vote for anyone other than John Kerry will mean that George Bush will likely be re-elected.”

Nader’s campaign spokesman in Oregon, Greg Kafoury, said there’s been no collaboration between Nader and Walker’s organization.

“I can’t stop anybody who wants to help us,” Kafoury said. “But we have never asked anyone for help who does not support Ralph Nader’s efforts on their merits.”

After holding two conventions aimed at qualifying Nader for Oregon’s ballot, his state supporters announced Monday they were changing their strategy and would use a petition drive to try to qualify him.

Kafoury said Tuesday the campaign hasn’t decided yet which of two petition options it will pursue — gathering 15,000 signatures for his independent candidacy, or 18,900 signatures for him to form a new party that could nominate him for the ballot.

Nader’s first attempt to qualify for the ballot came on April 6, when he tried to gather the needed 1,000 signatures at his first convention in Portland. The event drew only about 750 people.

Kafoury said at least 1,000 signatures were gathered during a second convention on June 26, but it appeared doubtful there were enough signatures from properly registered voters to qualify Nader.