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Ralph Nader, prominent consumer advocate and public interest lawyer, called for an end to the corporate influence on politics and society Saturday morning at the Harvard Law School Forum.
"The issue of electoral finance sickens everybody, even those who take it," Nader said before an audience of about 300 at the Kennedy School's Starr Auditorium.
"My preference is to take private money out of politics," Nader said. "Public elections should be publicly funded."
Nader, who is responsible for at least eight major federal consumer protection laws, said he does not believe that laws requiring disclosure of campaign finance have been effective.
"There's a banality of disclosure that's occurred," he said. "Federal statutes have been loopholed to disutility. The ability of money to slide around obstructions in the law is like the ability of water to slide around obstructions like your roof."
Nader, a 1958 graduate of the law School, condemned the growing influence of corporations in American society.
"How can you deal with the corporate influence in politics?" Nader asked. "This artificial entity called the corporation has a whole range of immunities and advantages that you and I wouldn't even dream of."
Nader connected the corporate quest for profits to the declining standard of living for the average American.
"When companies are gluttonous with their profits and there is a declining standard of living for eighty percent of workers, that is a signal that we are declining," he said.
Nader challenged the audience, mostly students at the Law School and the Kennedy School, to think "civic."
"You didn't grow up civic, and didn't grow up civic," he said. "We grew up commercial."
Nader also called for more organized student involvement in public-interest issues.
"Students are at the peak of their idealism," he said. "They are dangerous to the establishment."
Nader applauded two student groups as models of student involvement in public service: Harvard's Appleseed Center for Electoral Reform, which sponsored his speech, and "Campaign 25."
Campaign 25 is an ad-hoc coaltion of law school students calling for additional funding for public interest law at Harvard's Law School.
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