What do you do if you're a loyal Republican who, like three fifths of George W. Bush's donors, has given $2,000 to the President's re-election campaign—the maximum that the law allows? If you're among a growing number of clever conservatives, determined to bleed votes from John Kerry at any price, you write a check to Ralph Nader. Who better to throw a close election to your man than the guy who did so last time around? If Machiavelli had had to contend with campaign-finance laws, this is a tactic he might have devised.
Nader himself claims that his candidacy will attract angry conservatives. That description, however, doesn't fit the small but distinguished group of Republicans who have given him money; most had already voted for Bush with their checkbooks, donating thousands of dollars to the President and the Republican Party. "Nader would probably deny it," says Larry Noble, the director of the Center for Responsive Politics, a group that tracks money in politics, "but these people are obviously supporting him to undermine Kerry." According to data collected by the center, Nader's most prominent Republican backer is the billionaire Richard J. Egan, a Bush "Ranger" and recently the ambassador to Ireland, who has so far bundled more than $200,000 for the President's re-election campaign. Over the past year Egan and his wife have given $35,000 to the Republican National Committee and thousands more to the party's congressional candidates—so Egan's primary goal in donating $2,000 to Nader was probably not a return to Dublin as Nader's ambassador.