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Earth To Reform Party

A schismatic convention leads to one big question: What happens to the federal campaign funds?

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It was easy when the Bush-Cheney team did it. On Aug. 4, lawyers from the G.O.P. ticket walked into the Washington offices of the Federal Election Commission and filed their papers certifying that George W. Bush was indeed the party's nominee. In a couple of hours, $67.5 million in federal funds was wired to the Bush-Cheney campaign.

Life isn't so simple, of course, for the Reform Party. The independent movement forged by Ross Perot, which garnered nearly a fifth of the vote in 1992, is in chaos. At its convention last week in Long Beach, Calif., there were shoving matches and a major split. One group chose former G.O.P. candidate Pat Buchanan, while a smaller group gave its nod to John Hagelin, physicist and transcendental-meditation advocate. (One sign at the convention: NOMINATE JIMMY CARTER TO UNITE THE REFORM PARTY.) Each claims the nomination and $12.5 million in federal funds, which leads to one question: After the schism, what happens to the money?

It's up to the FEC to figure out who gets the dough. Since the money goes to the candidate, the commission must decide who is the Real Reform Nominee. It won't be easy. The FEC has never faced anything like this. Its first task: determine who followed the party's own nominating rules. That remains in dispute--naturally--since Hagelin forces have accused Buchanan of massive vote fraud. Hagelin supporters sent the FEC a six-page complaint, compiled an inch-thick sheaf of alleged evidence and were barely able to break for meals and their twice-daily TM rituals. "There has been a destructive process in the Reform Party for the past six months," Hagelin told TIME. Whoever gets the FEC's blessing won't be home free. The loser will surely challenge the decision in court. Once members of one campaign get the money, though, it's pretty much theirs to spend as they see fit. While the FEC requires that the money be spent on campaign-related expenditures (and will conduct an audit after the election), the pols have a lot of latitude. "They're not going to try to cogitate for the campaign what is and isn't a legitimate expense," says Ken Gross, a Washington attorney who practices election law.

For his part, Buchanan is keeping a brave face. "This Reform Party skirmish is over," he said, perhaps optimistically. "It's on to November." At the convention he surprised nearly everyone by choosing a black woman as his running mate. Ezola Foster, a former Los Angeles schoolteacher, seemed the antidote to accusations that Buchanan isn't inclusive. And it also seemed right for this Summer of Love as the G.O.P. reaches out to minorities and Al Gore broke barriers by picking Joe Lieberman. But upon closer inspection, it was hard to see how the all-but-unheard-of Foster could energize Buchanan's somnolent campaign, which has barely managed to get north of 1% support in the polls. She mirrors Buchanan's hard-line positions on immigration and social issues and is active in the far-right John Birch Society, which touts her as one of its speakers. Indeed, Foster's rants, calling schools "Marxist training camps," probably won't penetrate Bush's strong center-right coalition. But the pick of a black female Bircher seems fitting--the perfectly weird coda to the Reform Party's weird year. --By Matthew Cooper. With reporting by Jeffrey Ressner/Long Beach


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Cover Date: August 21, 2000

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