Nader Had Campaign Office at Charity
Some tax lawyers said that Nader's arrangement could pass legal muster so long as there is a detailed accounting and a rigorous separation of political and nonprofit finances.
San Francisco tax attorney Greg Colvin said that both tax and campaign-finance laws require seemingly minor office tasks -- such as using a fax or copying machine or a common kitchen, answering the phone or sorting mail -- to be delineated between the political campaign and the charity. "It should be done on an arms-length basis with a written agreement," Colvin said.
'Tight' Rental Market
Others suggested the arrangement between the campaign and the charity crossed the line merely by providing office space that the Nader campaign could not have otherwise obtained.
"Because we cannot foresee a scenario where it [the office space] would have been available to the Bush or Kerry campaigns, it is the availability of space not on the open market that leads to the only conclusion that Citizen Works is providing support for the Nader campaign," said Frances R. Hill, a noted specialist who teaches tax and campaign finance law at the University of Miami School of Law.
Nader said it was more convenient to rent from Citizen Works in an "extremely tight" rental market. "It can take a month-and-a-half to two months to find the right space with the right air transaction [ventilation system], with the right access to the building, the right location," he said. "That's Washington, D.C."
He refused to provide documents accounting for the campaign's use of office space and resources while it was co-located with Citizen Works. "If that's released to you, I'll have to release them to everyone," he said. "All of this is a matter between the campaign and the FEC. I'm not going to start saying we'll give The Post this, and then we'll have to give the L.A. Times that."
Nader campaign press secretary Kevin Zeese later said the campaign had signed two written agreements with the charity spelling out a sublease and a subsequent assignment of the lease, which were both required by the landlord.
Nader could not answer specific questions about the arrangement. He referred inquiries to Amato, the manager of both his 2000 and 2004 presidential bids. While Nader was available for at least a half-dozen interviews last week, repeated calls to Amato were not returned. Zeese said that she was too busy to talk to a reporter.
Nader emphasized that Amato made sure that all tax and election laws were followed.
"There's no bigger stickler than Theresa Amato," Nader said. "She's an attorney."
Zeese e-mailed a response to questions that he said was written by Nader and Amato. The response states that the campaign had its own employees, receptionist, office manager, fax, copier, phone and high-speed Internet lines.
"We shared no employees or a receptionist," the response states. "We bought our own coffee and used the coffee maker in Theresa's office. We admit -- we shared the toilets in the hall -- outside the suite." Nader said the staffer who sat at the receptionist's station by the door worked for Citizen Works, and the campaign receptionist sat in the back of the office and answered the phone and picked up mail.
Nader said Citizen Works, which is experiencing fundraising problems, is moving to a smaller office and shrinking to a single staff member by the end of this year. Nader and Amato founded Citizen Works, a nonprofit educational group set up in April 2001 to increase civic participation and serve as a corporate watchdog. Nader, the legendary consumer activist, has founded hundreds of citizen groups.
FEC reports show that Nader's 2000 campaign organization also used Citizen Works facilities, paying the charity about $69,000 in 2001, 2002 and 2003 . Also in December 2003, the campaign donated about $5,800 to Citizen Works.
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