Reform in Disarray

Four years after Ross Perot qualified the Reform Party for matching federal funds, the party is badly split as Perot loyalists are fighting with supporters of Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura over control of the party, while more candidates are joining the presidential race with an eye on the $12.6 million in federal funds. Jack Gargan of Florida was elected chairman last fall with the support of Ventura's faction, which is more libertarian and less trade-oriented, but before Gargan took over as new chairman in January, Perot loyalists headed by outgoing chairman Russell Verney of Dallas formed the Reform Leadership Council with the stated aim of refocusing the party on founding issues, such as campaign finance reform, fair trade and good government. They also want the party's nominating convention is held in Long Beach, Calif. Ventura forces want to hold the convention in St. Paul, Minn.

In the presidential race, joining celebrity candidates Pat Buchanan, who has Perot's support, and Donald Trump, the New York developer who is Ventura's favorite, is John Hagelin, the presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party in 1996, who hopes to run this year under both the Natural Law and Reform Party banners, and Bob Bowman, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot, rocket scientist, pacifist and bishop of the United Catholic Church who claims he was the first to file for the Reform presidential race.

Hagelin, a physicist, supports the Reform Party's stands on campaign finance reform, trade, fiscal responsibility, and governmental and accountability (see www.hagelin.org). Bowman promotes electoral reform, trade reform that renounces NAFTA, GATT and the WTO; a single-payer national health system; economic reforms that curb the power of transnational corporations and banks; and industrial reforms that would stop corporate welfare to polluters and promote clean industry, sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurs (see his web site at www.rmbowman.com).

Under current rules, any registered voter can cast a ballot for the Reform nominee, but Gargan wants the 150-member national committee to change the rules to restrict participation to registered Reform Party members.

No Place for 'Living Wage' Advocates

Living wage advocates found that ponying up the money isn't enough to get them into swank fundraising events. According to Caryle Murphy of the Washington Post, Catherine Poneras, a registered Republican who lives in Philadelphia, reserved a table for eight at a Wilmington fund-raiser for Texas Gov. George W. Bush set for mid-January. She was told to bring a check for $800 and pay at the door. But when she turned up at Wilmington's Hotel du Pont with colleagues from the Industrial Areas Foundation, including several clergy members, they were told their reservations could not be honored because the $100-a-plate event was sold out. IAF, a national anti-poverty network of congregation-based groups, has pressed presidential candidates about inner-city problems and is vigorously promoting the "living wage" standard, which would require companies getting federal subsidies to pay a minimum annual salary of $25,000. The IAF people said they suspected they were deliberately excluded when journalists exiting the ballroom reported seeing empty tables.

Interest Groups Paid $697M To Lobby

Health insurers, high-tech companies, banks and other interest groups spent $697 million to lobby Congress and the federal agencies during the first six months of 1999, according to a report released today by FEC Info, an Internet consulting firm that specializes in tracking political money. The American Medical Association, which favored new health care regulations, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposed them, each spent more than $8 million from January to June. The health care industry spent more on lobbying than anyone else, shelling out $95.5 million as Congress debated whether to impose new regulations on managed care health plans. Communications and technology companies, which fought over providing high-speed Internet access and sought approval for several telecommunications mergers, spent $94.6 million. The financial services industry, which won approval of a long-sought bill to drop Depression-era barriers against banks, insurance companies and investment houses competing against each other, spent $89.8 million on lobbying. Lobbying expenditures were down slightly from the $710 million spent during the first six months of 1998, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group that also analyzes federal lobbying disclosure reports.

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