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What's Happening

August 31, 2000


By Mike Ferullo/CNN

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (CNN) -- Under the banner of the "Natural Law and Reform Party Coalition," supporters of Iowa physicist John Hagelin convened Thursday to renew their challenge to Pat Buchanan's claim on the Reform Party's presidential nomination and its $12.6 million in federal matching funds.

Anti-Buchanan forces are hoping Hagelin's nomination will stop the conservative commentator and former Republican from claiming the nomination and the federal matching funds that come with it. Those federal funds are based on Reform's performance in the 1996 presidential elections, when Texas billionaire Ross Perot garnered 8 percent of the popular vote.

Hagelin, who ran for president as the Natural Law candidate in 1992 and 1996, credited Perot's candidacies those same election cycles for raising public awareness about the need to eliminate the national debt and overhaul the nation's campaign finance system. He insisted that Natural Law Party members could find common ground with their Reform counterparts on those issues.

"I think a great deal of progress will occur during the convention, hammering out the details of a combined platform, the cross-endorsement of candidates in a number of states, and everything that can be done to pursue Ross Perot's own philosophy and advice, the advice of 'united we stand,'" Hagelin said....

Russ Verney, a former Reform Party chairman and longtime aide to Perot, was on hand for the kick-off of the three-day "coalition convention" of Reform Party and Natural Law Party members in northern Virginia....

Buchanan left the GOP in October 1999 to run under the Reform Party banner. His staunchly conservative views on issues such as abortion and immigration quickly alienated party veterans committed to Perot's policy of avoiding social issues.

Anti-Buchanan members of the Reform Party charge that he "hijacked" the nomination by distributing ballots to thousands of Republicans and other conservatives who had supported his unsuccessful presidential bids in 1992 and 1996. Hagelin promptly filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission, seeking recognition as the rightful nominee and the matching funds.

"If the Federal Election Commission ignores the complaint of fraud and corruption in the Buchanan campaign and awards him the $12 million ... we will obviously sue in the U.S. Court of Appeals," Hagelin backer Jim Mangia said Thursday. "We will pursue this every step of the way."

And then there's the ballot debate. State election commissions across the country are struggling to decide whether Buchanan or Hagelin should appear on their general election ballots as the Reform Party nominee. Two states, Montana and Iowa, have chosen the name from a hat.

Hagelin said he hopes to appear as the nominee of the Natural Law/Reform coalition in at least 12 states, but refused to say which ones.

"The reason we can't release the names of the states is, that is a way of precipitating another lawsuit by Buchanan," he said.

His forces won a minor victory Wednesday after a federal judge refused to designate a Reform party candidate. U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon, who presided over a similar power struggle for control of $2.5 million in party funds in March, said Wednesday that he lacks jurisdiction in this internal dispute.

Mangia, chairman of the Hagelin faction of the Reform Party, called the decision "a small victory."

"What we're hoping is that this defeat for Buchanan is the beginning of a whole series of small and large defeats over the course of the next couple of weeks until Buchanan goes back to the Republican party where he belongs," Mangia said.