PHILADELPHIA - Green Party presidential hopeful Ralph Nader dismissed the Republican convention as a ''political carnival'' Saturday and denounced the two major parties for accepting millions in corporate largesse to stage their quadrennial gatherings.
''They pocket the taxpayers' money and sell the conventions to special interests,'' he said at a health care rally just five miles from the site where the GOP convention opens Monday.
''They want one giant party where politicians schmooze with corporate lobbyists and receive favors now in return for the politicians giving them favors later. Disgusting,'' Nader said. ''It is a political carnival.''
Each party received $13.5 million in federal funds for their conventions, but have accepted millions in cash and in-kind contributions from private entities. Federal law allows the host committee in the cities where each convention is being held to accept tax-deductible donations from corporations, unions and individuals to help put on the four-day events.
In his remarks advocating universal health care, Nader also took aim at George W. Bush and Al Gore, the presumptive Republican and Democratic presidential nominees, saying they would bow to the interests of health care corporations rather than consumers.
''The principle two-party system is more in the hands of the HMOs and the other lobbies than they are in the hands of you the people,'' Nader said.
And he echoed Democratic criticisms of Bush's running mate Dick Cheney, saying ''there are now two oil derricks running for the Republican candidacy.''
Cheney is resigning his post as chief executive officer of Halliburton Corp., a huge Dallas-based oil services conglomerate. Bush explored the oil business before getting into politics.
''By choosing the reactionary Dick Cheney, the reactionary George Bush has said to the American people, 'We are for big oil in your face,' and I don't think it's going to work,'' Nader told reporters after the rally.
The longtime consumer advocate also accused the Clinton administration of protecting the drug industry, called for a cap on prices for drugs developed with taxpayer money and challenged labor unions to set aside full-time organizers to galvanize support for universal health care coverage for the tens of millions of people with inadequate or no health insurance.
Nader also used the appearance to renew his call for third-party candidates to be included in the fall presidential debates. Rules require that candidates meet a 15 percent threshold in the polls to participate. Nader has placed between 4 percent and 8 percent in recent polls, and much of his support has been coming from those who say they would otherwise vote for Gore.
The rally was organized by the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care, one of several demonstrations underway to coincide with the convention, and Nader's remarks resonated with Mary Baxter, a stay-at-home mom who traveled from Grand Rapids, Mich.
She said she confronts the challenge of soaring health care costs with her elderly relatives who have no coverage for prescription drugs.
''He is not in it for himself,'' Baxter said of Nader, adding that without him in the race, ''I don't know if I would be excited to vote.''
Nader was returning to Philadelphia on Wednesday for a youth convention.
On the Net:Health care march site: http://www.phillyhealth.org/