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The Standard
September 1, 2000


The Reform Party's Golden Boy

Nat Goldhaber has done it all, from Transcendental Meditation to running an IBM-Apple venture. Now he's taking on the Buchanan Brigade. By Lessley Anderson

Nat Goldhaber has a resume that reads like a Silicon Valley history - from transcendentalism to Internet entrepreneur. But now he's trying something new: running for vice president on the other Reform Party ticket.

In the tradition of its eccentric founder H. Ross Perot, the Reform Party's bid for the presidency turned very strange, very fast. In mid-July, the party's convention dissolved into pandemonium with rival factions led by Pat Buchanan and John Hagelin battling for the nomination. Upset with Buchanan's right-wing populism, Hagelin's supporters bailed on the convention and anointed their candidate. The Buchanan Brigade nominated theirs. The party mantle now waits in federal court.

For his running mate, Buchanan chose Ezola Foster, who is one of the few African American women in the John Birch Society. Hagelin chose Goldhaber, who has little experience in politics save a stint in the '70s as interim director of Pennsylvania's Department of Energy (he was on the job during the Three Mile Island nuclear accident).

The idea, say Hagelin and Goldhaber, is to pull a Jesse Ventura. As a fringe ticket from a fringe party, the odds are they'll lose. But if they win, Goldhaber wouldn't just be the first Reform Party VP - he'd be the first self-made Internet millionaire going to work at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

A physically imposing man with penetrating brown eyes and a goatee, Goldhaber has been, prior to his Reform Party conversion, a self-described Berkeley Republican. After protesting for free speech in the 1960s, he voted for Reagan in the '80s. He owns a house in the Berkeley Hills and has a yellow Porsche in the garage. He meditates every day.

Their campaign platform is an offbeat mixture of free enterprise, campaign-finance reform and peacenik crusades to promote alternative energies and label genetically engineered foods. Not your conventional platform - but this is not a conventional ticket. Though Hagelin and Goldhaber have no chance, neither will admit it. "We will win," says Goldhaber. "I'm convinced that this country can do better."

A campaign for vice president, in a weird way, is a logical step: All the job requires is traveling around and offering opinions to whomever will listen. "Is it a side benefit that Nat gets to go around making speeches? Yeah," says RespondTV CEO David Kaiser, who worked with Goldhaber at Kaleida Labs, a short-lived IBM-Apple joint venture. "But I don't think it's primarily a vanity play for him."

No one-note dot-com executive, Goldhaber is an old-school Silicon Valley entrepreneur, eager to chat about quantum physics or Heidigger. Neither an MBA nor an engineer, Goldhaber prides himself on big, futuristic ideas - and on inspiring others to help him execute them.

Not so successful was Kaleida, an early-1990s multimedia venture. After a year as CEO, Goldhaber quit the company dogged by concerns about his management style. IBM and Apple pulled the plug on Kaleida in 1995.

And then there was CyberGold, Goldhaber's almost-eponymous Internet company. Based on the belief that people's "attention" would be the new commodity, CyberGold paid people to view Internet ads. Goldhaber sold the firm to reward program MyPoints .com in April, but the deal was more a bailout than a victory. Investors lost money on CyberGold, and by the time the company was sold to MyPoints, almost the entire original staff had left.

But if CyberGold would be a defeat for a typical executive, that's not the way Goldhaber sees it. "Did I get it exactly right?" he asks. "I think yes."

This bravado will serve Goldhaber well in his battle with the Buchanan Brigade. Goldhaber once described politics as "the art of arguing with your own side." He was more prophetic than he could've known. The Buchanan faction has sued the Hagelin-Goldhaber wing in federal court for control of the party and the Web site. The Federal Election Commission, meanwhile, will determine who gets $12.6 million in campaign funds.

When prodded, Goldhaber will almost admit that he might lose the election. But he still concentrates on the positive: "I've been very fortunate in everything. And maybe it's time and proper for me to give back."