WASHINGTON — Even as the 2008 Democratic presidential candidates prepared to debate Tuesday night, Ralph Nader, a controversial figure from the last two presidential campaigns, sued the Democratic Party, the Kerry-Edwards 2004 campaign and affiliated groups for allegedly sabotaging his 2004 campaign.
"The Democratic Party is going after anyone who presents a credible challenge to their monopoly over their perceived voters," said Nader, the consumer advocate who ran for president in 2004 as an independent and in 2000 as a candidate of the Green Party. Democrats blame him for draining votes from nominee Al Gore in 2000, costing the vice president the election, and were bent on blunting his influence in 2004.
Nader, who's weighing running again in 2008, told McClatchy Newspapers that he'd decide by the end of the year.
"This lawsuit was filed to help advance a free and open electoral process for all candidates and voters," he said. "Candidate rights and voter rights nourish each other for more voices, choices and a more open and competitive democracy."
The suit, filed in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, seeks compensatory damages, punitive damages and injunctive relief "to protect the constitutional rights of both candidates and voters."
Nader accuses Democratic National Committee officials, the campaign of '04 Democratic nominee John Kerry and his running mate, John Edwards, and a group called The Ballot Project of jointly planning a nationwide effort to block Nader and running mate Peter Camejo from state ballots "as a means to drive into deep debt or bankrupt the Nader-Camejo campaign."
DNC spokesman Luis Miranda said the party headquarters was unaware of the suit, but in any case, "We do not comment on pending litigation."
Asked why Nader had waited until now to sue, Bruce Afran, an attorney for Nader, said, "It's precisely because everyone is thinking of '08 that Ralph Nader wants to make sure this won't happen again to a third party candidate."
Nader said it took a long time to discover the connections of people and organizations he felt were trying to destroy him. "It's a lot of work," he said. "I'm not GM." Nader's most famous confrontation was with General Motors, which tried to undermine him during his 1960s drive for auto safety.
Democratic Party officials and allied organizations sued the Nader-Camejo campaign in 18 state courts during the run-up to the 2004 election and blocked him from the ballot in such key states as Pennsylvania and Oregon.
A Pittsburgh law firm, Reed Smith, successfully sued Nader for court costs and has a judgment pending against him for more than $61,000. Nader's lawsuit lays out what it says were undisclosed connections between the firm and members of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which decided the case.
"Today's vastly more burdensome, intricate and discriminatory ballot-access barriers in many state laws, enacted by the two-party duopoly, has enabled this vast Democratic Party conspiracy," Nader said.