WASHINGTON -- Billionaire Richard J. Egan built his reputation in politics as a major donor and fund-raiser for the Bush campaign, steering hundreds of thousands of dollars into Republican coffers in recent years. But now it appears Egan and his relatives are bankrolling a new candidate: independent presidential contender Ralph Nader.
Egan, cofounder of EMC Corp. in Hopkinton, has given Nader the maximum $2,000 allowed under the law, according to federal elections documents that also show a $4,000 contribution to Nader from Egan's son and daughter-in-law, John R. and Pamela C. Egan. An independent campaign finance watchdog group lists the Egan-Managed Capital company -- another family business in Massachusetts -- as among the biggest contributors to the Nader campaign.
Donors often cross party lines to support candidates based on specific regional or business issues, but the Egans' sudden interest in Nader seems to reflect a more sophisticated strategy by Republicans to draw support away from Democratic challenger John F. Kerry by bolstering his third-party rival. For months, Democrats have accused Republicans of conspiring to put Nader on enough ballots to tip the election -- a theory that gained credence this week as two conservative groups in Oregon admitted making phone calls urging supporters to help win Nader a spot on the ticket in that evenly divided state.
Yesterday, a watchdog group in Washington filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the Oregon groups of breaking campaign laws with their efforts on Nader's behalf. The complaint also names the Bush and Nader campaigns, saying that reports of the Bush campaign using its resources to help Nader, and Nader's acceptance of the assistance, would amount to illegal campaign activity. Both groups and the two campaigns denied breaking the law, calling the accusations ''frivolous."
The complaint points ''to no evidence of us doing anything wrong in Oregon -- if some Republican-leaning groups supported our convention it was done independent of us, and they offer nothing to disprove that," Nader spokesman Kevin Zeese said.
Meanwhile, former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean plans to debate Nader on the very question of his candidacy in an event sponsored by National Public Radio's ''Justice Talking" show. The 90-minute debate will take place in front of a live audience. ''I am anxious to debate Ralph Nader in order to speak about why he wants to run for president," Dean said in a statement accompanying the announcement. ''This is the most important election in my lifetime and a third party candidate could make a difference -- this November and for years to come."
Nader campaign officials reject suggestions that his candidacy will hurt Kerry's chances, or that Nader played a role in Vice President Al Gore's defeat in 2000, although Nader did draw sizable support in several narrowly split electoral battlefields in the last election.
Egan, who was sent to Ireland as US ambassador by President Bush after his fund-raising successes in the 2000 campaign, returned home to Massachusetts last year. The financial disclosure documents list his occupation as retired, and a spokesman for EMC Corp., where Egan no longer works, said he could not reach Egan for comment or to confirm the documents are accurate. The name and address listed for Egan under the Nader address match the name and address that show his repeated donations to the Bush campaign, the Republican National Committee, and other Republican campaigns. The listing for John R. Egan shows his occupation as the manager of Carruth Management LLC, the family's commercial real estate firm in Westborough.
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