Facebook Twitter

Threats fly on the eve of Reform convention

SHARE Threats fly on the eve of Reform convention

LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Reform Party activists are gathering in this oceanside city for a national convention and a showdown over the party's future, its presidential nomination and the $12.5 million in taxpayer dollars that come with it.

The process of deciding who gets the public money will kick off behind closed doors Tuesday as supporters of Pat Buchanan and party founder Ross Perot fight among themselves to seat a committee that will take up still more disputes — among them, whether Buchanan followed the rules in the party's primary or should be disqualified from receiving the party's nomination.

The closure, a departure from Reform Party procedure, is a lesson from the party's national committee meeting in Nashville over the winter, according to party chairman Gerry Moan. That event, at which Buchanan did not play a part, turned into a nationally televised brawl between factions that embarrassed many party members.

"What we found out in Nashville was that some people did some orchestrating only because the cameras were there," he said Tuesday, adding that later parts of the meeting are expected to be open. "I know there are some people who really just want to make sure that the proceedings don't go forward and nothing gets done."

Now realigned either with or against Buchanan and threatening lawsuits on both sides, the factions are even more hostile on the eve of the party's presidential nominating convention.

Threats are flying in all directions. If the national committee disqualifies Buchanan or if little-known challenger John Hagelin wins the party primary, the commentator's delegates may nominate him anyway. If that happens, Perot's supporters may seek an injunction to prevent Buchanan from receiving the $12.5 million in federal matching funds that Perot earned in the 1996 elections.

Perot's top lieutenant said longtime members might leave if Buchanan is nominated.

"I can't rule anything out," said Russell Verney.

Buchanan, meanwhile, said the party would not survive without him.

"If I don't get this nomination, it is pretty much the end of the Reform Party," he said Sunday in a pre-convention interview on CBS's "Face the Nation."

The combustible atmosphere — and the legacy of Nashville — has faced organizers with more security concerns than they had anticipated and prompted Moan to boost the event's security budget by 15 percent.

Conventioneers will walk past state and local police and through metal detectors as they enter the city's breezy convention hall.

Buchanan says he is saving the party, rather than tearing it apart. He has toured the country lining up convention delegates, ousting hostile state party leaders and installing new chapters. He has ended up with a formidable — and perhaps unbeatable — majority for the convention floor.

But his presence in the party and his outspokenness on social issues have offended some party members, particularly leaders loyal to Perot.

Buchanan is the overwhelming front-runner in the party's mail-in primary, the results of which are to be announced on Friday. But two significant procedural hurdles stand in his way.

Backed by Perot's supporters, Hagelin contends that Buchanan should be disqualified. He says some 200,000 of Buchanan's votes were acquired in violation of party rules. That part of today's meeting might be open to the public, Buchanan officials said.

If Buchanan survives that challenge, a second committee must decide who those delegates will be during a meeting on Tuesday at which some 43 delegate seats are disputed by state parties that have split and sent two delegations to Long Beach. The public is not expected to be present at that meeting, either, though observers will be able to watch from another room, Moan said.