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Reform Party Picks Steering Committee; Factional Disagreements Expected

November 22, 1996

DALLAS (AP) _ In his first public move to keep control of his Reform Party away from a rival faction, Ross Perot picked a national steering committee of himself, two supporters _ and one rival.

Perot gathered one representative from each of the 50 states Wednesday night, and the committee was chosen during a secretive conference call, which required a password for entry.

Along with Perot, running mate Pat Choate and campaign coordinator Russ Verney, the committee includes Richard Lamm, the Texas billionaire’s opponent for the party’s presidential nomination.

During the call, Choate was the one who suggested the committee, and Perot was on the line only for a brief statement. But members of a rival faction believe the selections were handpicked by Perot.

Ron Barthel, the party’s vice chairman in Oregon and leader of a breakaway faction of seven state party organizations, called the conference call a sham, designed to allow Perot to say all 50 states met.

``He’s nothing more than a billionaire bully,″ Barthel said Thursday. ``He uses his money as a carrot, but they need to look at his money like cocaine. They need to get off it as soon as possible.″

Barthel said that when he challenged the way Perot was trying to control things, he was bounced off the conference call.

The battle is for control of the infant party as well as federal money it is expected to receive for the next presidential election because Perot garnered 8 percent of the vote this year.

The breakaway Reform Party organizations, which have democratically elected leaders in contrast to many other states with Perot appointees, has filed a request with the Federal Election Commission seeking recognition as the party’s national governing body. The request is not likely to be withdrawn because of the steering committee.

Perot supporters have said they are surprised at the power struggle, claiming the party belongs to ``the people.″ Verney described the steering committee as the first move by Perot’s followers for recognition as the national third party.

Lamm, a former Colorado governor, was so disillusioned after losing the party’s presidential nomination to Perot in August that he said he would not support Perot’s bid for the White House. However, in an attempt to bring the factions together and maintain the drive for a legitimate third party, he decided it was important for him to join the committee, as long as the process was fair. He wrote a letter to Choate on Thursday outlining his conditions.

``I wasn’t born yesterday,″ Lamm said. ``I think this is a crucial time in the building of a third political party. If they try to get in a battle ... I just don’t think that’s the way to go.″

The Perot representatives are expected to gather for what is being called a ``founding convention.″ During the 90-minute call, a convention date was set for Jan. 24-25. No site was selected.

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