Reform Party tied to the Perot name

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If the Reform Party is ever to walk on its own legs, says an aide to former Governor Dick Lamm, "it can't be carried around by Ross Perot".

But this coming Sunday, it is widely assumed, the party's supporters will do the obvious thing and elect Mr Perot as their presidential candidate. Mr Lamm, a three-term Democrat Governor of Colorado, and now a university professor, stood for the Reform nomination six weeks ago. As votes were counted this week, he was campaigning from his home in the state the only way he can afford, via back-to-back appearances on radio talk shows.

A Lamm spokesman, Eric Anderson, painted a picture of the Reform Party as a young political movement suffering from growing pains and "a certain amount of chaos". It appeals to a huge group of middle-class Americans who are alienated by the two-party system, aides claim. But for all its claims to be an independent third force, the party is tied financially and spiritually to the Perot name. Top functionaries are not only veterans of the Perot effort in 1992 but, in many cases, are long-time personal aides. The bill for the Reform Party's gathering in Long Beach last weekend, a second meeting set for Pennsylvania on Sunday, and the price of sending ballots to more than 1 million people has run to more than $6m (pounds 4m) - paid for by Mr Perot's office in Dallas. Mr Lamm has accused him of treating the Reform Party as a "wholly owned subsidiary". It is tough, he has said, running against a billionaire who "makes up the rules ... as he goes along".

The California Reform Party, at least, has achieved some independence in a state where Mr Perot's support is relatively strong. Its 27-year-old chairman, Michael Farris, an oceanographic researcher in Los Angeles, said the local party had raised $150,000 in donations, enough to finance three regional offices, and takes no money from Dallas. But it also, he said, had a "very, very good working relationship" with the local Perot Reform Committee, a separate group funded by Mr Perot.

Mr Perot's drive to launch a third party in the US has put the Reform ticket on the November ballot in 34 of the 50 states so far. But the Perot camp has not released any verifiable membership numbers. The voting forms this week were sent to people who had signed the petitions required by law to get the party on the ballot. They are not paying members, and in an earlier survey only about 5 per cent - 50,000 people - bothered to reply. Two-thirds indicated a preference for Mr Perot.

Mr Lamm has made a professional play for the Reform nomination. His demand for barriers to new immigration, on the basis that 83 per cent of Americans are opposed to it, plays well with Perotistas who analysts say are increasingly young, blue collar, and discontented, and it drew loud cheers in Long Beach. But his name is virtually unknown across the country. Based on his 18.9 per cent share of the vote in 1992, if Mr Perot runs he will have access to up to $30m in public money, an alarming prospect for Republicans. It is unclear whether Mr Lamm, if he won, would have any legal claim to the cash. To underwrite his shoestring campaign, he has already taken out a $30,000 mortgage on his home.