CHICAGO Ralph Nader’s unorthodox style of financing and running a presidential campaign was on display Tuesday night as 10,000 people, mostly university students, paid admission to hear the Green Party candidate demand an end to corporate power.
These “super rallies” of which Mr. Nader has had five so far, with a sixth planned for tomorrow in New York are part of the candidate’s strategy for running a campaign on a shoestring budget.
There is no so-called “soft money” behind Mr. Nader, who does not accept contributions from political action committees or from organized labor. But a lot of creative individuals support him.
“We are willing to disarm and set an example for the two corrupt parties,” Mr. Nader told a group of 70 contributors at a Greek restaurant here shortly before the rally. “We are practicing what we preach, so that we can preach what we practice.”
Mr. Nader has raised $4.5 million already, and says he will soon exceed his goal of $5 million, a paltry sum in the world of presidential politics. His goal is to capture 5 percent of the vote nationally, a share that would qualify the Green Party for federal funds in the 2004 election.
The rally was an example of creative financing from a man who has long demanded public financing of political campaigns. For starters, it featured an acoustic guitar set by Eddie Vedder, lead singer of the rock group Pearl Jam, a quick speech by 1980 independent candidate for president John Anderson, as well as a rabble-rousing prologue by iconoclastic filmmaker Michael Moore.
More importantly, 10,000 people paid between $7 and $10 each to get into the arena on the University of Illinois campus where Mr. Nader spoke.
“I wanted to get it straight from the horse’s mouth,” said Stephen Kline, 19, a student at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
Others came from out of town as well. Joanne Curry, 42, and her daughter, Clair Steger, 21, from Wisconsin joined the rally. Mrs. Curry, who said she is currently unemployed, paid the minimum $7 to get in, while her daughter anted up $10 for the cause.
“I’m sick of business as usual,” Mrs. Curry said.
Mr. Nader raised the roof with a speech that ran more than an hour. The candidate railed at corporate power in politics, from international trade to genetically modified products to pharmaceuticals. And the crowd, not swayed by arguments that their votes for Mr. Nader would hurt Vice President Al Gore, loved it, enthusiastically cheering Mr. Nader at every turn.
“The major parties couldn’t get people to pay to see their candidates,” said Mr. Nader’s spokeswoman, Stacy Malkin. She said that the income from the rally goes to cover expenses, with not much left over, but that it nets a bonanza of local press coverage.
The fund-raiser was a low-key affair, but one that raised roughly $7,000 in crucial operating funds. Sheri Ard worked at the event, held at an inexpensive restaurant in Chicago’s Greektown neighborhood. Ms. Ard, 36, also held a fund-raiser for Mr. Nader at her father’s home in September.
“A grass-roots campaign needs money from individuals,” she said. “A lot of them.”
The Nader campaign also has used the Internet aggressively to raise funds, avoiding the high costs of direct mail and any reliance on what the candidate calls “cash-register politics.”
A frugal operation is part of the mix as well. Mr. Nader frequently stays with friends or supporters, but not always. He often has to rise early in the morning to get to the airport or to the next campaign rally, so a cheap hotel room is sometimes necessary.
“We fly coach,” Mr. Nader said. “We keep things to a minimum.”