Reform Party

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The Reform Party of the United States of America (abbreviated Reform Party USA or RPUSA, generally known simply as the Reform Party) is a political party in the United States, founded by Ross Perot in 1995 who said Americans were disillusioned with the state of politics—as being corrupt and unable to deal with vital issues—and desired a viable alternative to the Republican and Democratic Parties.

Its biggest victory came when Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota in 1998. Since then, the party has been fraught with infighting.


The Party grew out of Perot's efforts in the 1992 presidential election, where—running as an independent—he became the first non-major party candidate since 1912 to have been considered viable enough to win the presidency. Perot made a splash by bringing a focus to fiscal issues such as the federal deficit and national debt; government reform issues such as term limits, campaign finance reform, and lobbying reform; and issues on trade. A large part of his following was grounded in the belief he was addressing vital problems largely ignored by the two major parties. On these strengths, he won two of the three presidential debates and placed second in the other, according to some polls at the time.

A Gallup poll showed Perot with a slim lead, but on July 16 he suspended his campaign, accusing Republican operatives of threatening to sabotage his daughter's wedding, and was accused by Newsweek Magazine of being a "Quitter" in a well-publicized cover-page article. Even after resuming his campaign on October 1, Perot was consistently dogged by the "quitter" moniker and other allegations concerning his character, to the extent that on Election Day many voters were confused as to whether or not Perot was actually still a candidate. He ended up receiving about 18.9% of the popular vote, a record level of popularity not seen in an independent candidacy since former President Theodore Roosevelt ran on the "Bull Moose" Progressive ticket in 1912. He continued being politically involved after the election, formally turning his campaign organization (United We Stand America) into a lobbying group. One of his primary goals was the defeat of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) during this period.

In 1994 the Republicans took control of the House of Representatives, largely on the strength of the "Contract With America", which recognized and promised to deal with many of the issues Perot's voters had mobilized to support in 1992. However, two of the major provisions (Constitutional amendments for term limits and the balanced budgets) failed to secure the two-thirds congressional majorities required to take effect. The term limits amendment vote failed in the house on a 227-204-1 vote (288 votes were required); the balanced budget amendment passed in the House of Representatives, but failed by two votes in the senate. (Sen. Dole voted against the amendment on procedural grounds when it became apparent that it was going to fail; by voting no he could attempt to bring it up again at a later date. A second vote on the amendment in the Senate in 1997 failed by one vote in a 66-34 split.)

Dissatisfied, the grassroots organizations which had made Perot's 1992 candidacy possible began to band together to found a third party intended to rival the Republicans and Democrats. For legal reasons, the party ended up being called the "Reform Party" ("Independent Party" was preferred, but already taken, as were several variants on the name). A drive to get the party on the ballot in all fifty states succeeded, although it ended up with lawsuits in some regions over state ballot access requirements. In a few areas, minor parties became incorporated as state party organizations.

When the 1996 election season arrived, Perot at first held off from entering the contest for the Reform Party's nomination, calling for others to try for the ticket. The only person who announced such an intention was Dick Lamm, former Governor of Colorado. After the Federal Election Commission indicated only Perot and not Lamm would be able to secure federal matching funds—because his 1992 campaign was as an independent—Perot entered the race. Some were upset that Perot changed his mind and in their view overshadowed Lamm's run for the party nomination. This built up to the beginning of a splinter within the movement when it was alleged certain problems in the primary process, such as many Lamm supporters not receiving ballots, and some primary voters receiving multiple ballots, were Perot's doing. The Reform Party claimed these problems stemmed from the petition process for getting the Reform Party on the ballot in all of the states, since the party claimed they used the names and addresses of petition signers as the basis of who received ballots. Primary ballots were sent by mail to designated voters. Eventually, Perot was nominated and he chose economist Pat Choate as his vice-presidential candidate.

Between 1992 and 1996, the Commission on Presidential Debates changed its rules regarding how candidates could qualify to participate in the presidential debates. As Perot had previously done very well in debates, it was a decisive blow to the campaign when the Commission ruled that he could not participate on basis of somewhat vague criteria --- such as that a candidate was required to have already been endorsed by "a substantial number of major news organizations", with "substantial" being a number to be decided by the Commission on a case-by-case basis. Perot could not have qualified for the debates in 1992 under these rules, and was able to show that various famous US Presidents would likewise have been excluded from modern debate by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

Despite legal action by the Perot team, and an 80% majority of Americans supporting his participation in the debates, the Commission refused to budge and Perot was reduced to making his points heard via a series of half-hour "commercials" that most Americans channel-surfed past. In the end, Perot and Choate won 8% of the vote.

By 1997, factional disputes began to emerge with the departure of a small group that believed Perot had rigged the 1996 party primary to defeat Lamm. These individuals eventually established the American Reform Party. During this time, Perot himself chose to leave the party to its own devices, concentrating on lobbying efforts through United We Stand America.

Mid-term elections of 1998

In 1998, the Reform Party received a boost when Jesse Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota, the highest office win for a national third party since the beginning of the century.

According to the Women's League of Voters, Reform candidates obtained more votes nationwide in 1998 than did any other third party in America, even without those garnered by Ventura. Counting Ventura's performance, Reformers took in more votes than all other third parties in the United States combined, establishing the Reform Party as America's third largest party.

This was a particularly impressive feat when one considers that none of Perot's money, influence or organization was involved in any of the candidacies, including Ventura's. The party was operating entirely on its own resources, and had in fact run fewer candidates with less money than the next-most-popular party, the Libertarians.

Presidential election of 2000

The Reform Party's presidential candidate for the 2000 election was due federal matching funds of $12.5 million, based on Perot's 8% showing in 1996. This made the nomination an attractive target to would-be candidates.

During 1999, party leaders agreed that the necessary resources to win a presidential election were not available even with those funds. The decision was made to run a campaign aimed at obtaining at least the 5% popular vote necessary to maintain FEC funding, as well as increasing efforts at fundraising and voter registration, in hopes of presenting a better candidacy in 2004. A number of hopefuls presented themselves to the party, including celebrities such as Warren Beatty and Donald Trump. Neither Trump nor Beatty impressed the Reform rank and file; neither seemed to have bothered to research the party's platform or ideals, and were all too clearly there to be seen rather than to run a serious campaign.

Of the more serious candidates, only two had the political organization and support necessary to seek and win the primary vote: Republican Patrick J. Buchanan and Natural Law Party candidate John Hagelin. There were half-a-dozen others who ran low-budget or regional campaigns seeking the nomination, such as Lenora Fulani, but events would transpire to effectively exclude them from the race.

Buchanan had originally approached the party's leadership with various promises, including that he would commit himself to the party's growth over the next five years in order to help create a more serious contender versus the major parties. Another promise was that he would stay away from his usual lightning-rod issues and stick to the more moderate Reform platform planks. The "Buchanan Brigades" began to appear at various Reform Party functions, re-registering from Republican to Reform in the process, and at first the party's resurgence as a national force seemed inevitable.


Problems first became evident at a meeting of the National Committee in Nashville, which was at the time being televised live on C-SPAN. The National Chair had come under fire for misuse of party resources and abuse of his authority, and as he attempted to defend himself against these allegations a Buchanan supporter walked up to the podium and disconnected the microphone. A non-Buchananist immediately reconnected the mic, whereupon he was attacked by the Buchananist. Only two were fighting, and that for only a few seconds, but the attempt of everyone around them to pull them apart gave the impression of a much larger fracas, especially with the camera zoomed in. The media promptly dubbed the incident "Mashville".

"Mashville" was presented as evidence that the National Chair had lost control, and that combined with the earlier allegations were enough to force his resignation. Pat Choate, Perot's 1996 VP candidate --- and a Buchanan supporter --- was elected as the new National Chair. Another Buchananist, Gerald Moan, was elected to chair the 2000 National Convention, and when Choate later resigned, Moan was elected as National Chair.

Broken promises, broken rules

At first Buchanan's decision to run as a Reformer was met with mixed support. However, annoyance, and then outright opposition, began to form as Buchanan's campaign started using "big party" tactics and techniques which some considered anti-Reform, such as deliberately excluding other candidates from Buchanan-controlled debate venues. Buchanan also began to expound his views on issues such as immigration and abortion, formally breaking the first of his promises and alienating the largely-centrist core of the party.

But the real opposition came in the aftermath of Buchanan's public refusal to allow his ballots to be examined for legitimacy. According to party rules, a primary ballot can only be sent to party members, or to people who request a ballot, but the party's phones began ringing with complaints from people who received ballots in the mail that they never requested. Those who were willing to answer questions revealed that they had given money to Buchanan's previous campaigns, indicating that they had been mass-mailed using a list of past donors: an act that would invalidate over half a million primary votes, and amount to the biggest single case of confirmed ballot fraud in American history.

The Executive Committee met and declared the intent to audit the ballots, whereupon Gerald Moan -- now the National Chair, and openly a Buchanan supporter -- declared that he and Buchanan had personally cut a deal to keep the voting list secret. Moreover, the deal had been made when Moan was a committee chair and not the National Chair, and in either case neither position could legally prevent the party from confirming the veracity of votes cast in one of its own elections. The Committee voted to investigate the matter and then reconvene to make a decision, which was opposed by Chairman Moan, Treasurer Tom McLaughlin and Regional Representative Bob Belcher. The motion carried by 7-3.

Moan and his followers immediately moved to secure the nomination for Buchanan by attempting to block further investigations and decisions. All three refused to show for the July 30, 2000 meeting in an attempt to prevent the Committee from having the legal minimum necessary to conduct business, but Moan had neglected to remember that the National Chair did not count for quorum under party rules. McLaughlin put a lock on the party's treasury, however, and refused to accept orders from the Executive Committee regarding its use and disposition. Regardless, the Committee declared Buchanan's exclusion from the primary on grounds that his votes could not be checked for validity without Buchanan's cooperation.

Buchanan still had a chance to win -- the party's rules allowed for a two-thirds majority of the National Convention to override the primary vote. If, out of some 660 delegates, Buchanan could convince 440 to vote for him, he would win the nomination.

The "Freedom Party"

It does not appear that Buchanan had any such interests. His Brigades began forming and registering new state organizations under the name of "Freedom Party" during 2000 in every state where resistance to Brigade takeovers succeeded. Buchanan himself announced to the press, when the Colorado Freedom Party was created in June, that it would be seated as "the real Reform Party of Colorado" at the National Convention. To do this would require removing the staunchly anti-Buchanan Reform Party of Colorado first, indicating that Buchanan was already planning on forcibly removing state parties opposed to his takeover. He even referred to the Freedom Party as "an insurance policy". Boulder News, June 2000

Chairman Gerald Moan ordered a National Committee meeting to be set just a few days before the National Convention. At the meeting, he declared the intent to have all the Freedom Parties recognized as legitimate Reform state parties, unilaterally ruled that the FP members present could vote for themselves on the matter, and instantly set off a five-way argument with the party's own parliamentarian, Beverly Kennedy, telling him he had no such authority. His response was that she was there to advise him, and that he was choosing to ignore her advice.

At that point, the majority of the National Committee attempted to leave the room, but were physically restrained by security officers hired by the Buchanan campaign at party expense. A struggle ensued, finally resulting in the doors to the room breaking open and party members literally tumbling out into the corridor where a news camera was waiting for the results of the meeting. National Secretary Jim Mangia recovered in a few seconds and denounced Moan and the Freedom Parties for attempting to usurp the Convention, but the press simply ran the story as "another Reform Party fracas" without adding any details.

Presidential election of 2004

By the October 2003 National Convention, the Reform Party had only begun rebuilding, but several former state organizations had elected to rejoin now that the interference from the Freedom Parties was gone. They increased their ranks from 24 to 30 states, and managed to retrieve ballot access for seven of them (Buchanan's poor showing in 2000, and negligence since, had lost ballot access for almost the entire party).

Obviously, no serious attempt at a candidacy could be made for 2004, so the party opted to support Ralph Nader as the best option for an independent of any stripe that year.

However, the hijinks weren't quite over yet. The party's National Treasurer, William D. Chapman Sr, acting on his own, tried to get the FEC to close down the party on grounds that it did not have a substantial bank account...something that had also been true in 2001 and 2002 during the Buchanan era. The party was also being held liable for debts that had been incurred without authorization by persons no longer with the party, to the tune of $300,000. In response, the Reform Party leadership suspended Chapman from his post.

In early 2005, press releases from the Reform Party indicated that the party is in the process of rebuilding, with appeals for donations, attempts to reconstitute state party affiliates that were lost during the breakaways of such groups as the Independence Party of Minnesota and the America First Party, and the election of new party officials.

Activities of the party in 2005

In 2005, a dispute was occasioned. National Committee members from several states including Texas, Michigan, and Florida acquired the necessary number of national committee members (under party bylaws) to call for both a meeting of the National Committee and the Executive Committee. At both meetings, it was determined that a National Convention needed to be called and that it would be held in Tampa, FL. The Chairman at the time, along with National Committee members from Arizona, California, and Oklahoma refused to attend the National and Executive Committee meetings and rejected the legitimacy of that Convention and boycotted it as illegitimate. As a result those state held a second Convention in Arizona.

In response to a suit filed by the group that met in Tampa, leaders of the Reform Party filed a RICO complaint claiming the Tampa group were extremists and guilty of conspiracy. [1]

2006 party candidates

In 2006, the Reform Party ran candidates in Arizona, and was petitioning to regain ballot access in several other States where state Reform Party organizations are active. The Reform Party of Kansas nominated a slate of candidates led by Iraq War veteran Richard Ranzau. In Colorado, a former assistant Environmental Protection Agency administrator and Navy veteran with credentials as a fiscal conservative, Eric Eidsness, ran on the Reform Party ticket in Colorado's 4th congressional district in 2006 [2] and received 11.28% of the vote, five times the winning candidate's margin of victory [3]; he later switched his affiliation to the Democratic Party[1]. The Florida Reform Party granted use of its ballot line for Governor to Max Linn of Florida Citizens for Term Limits (a Republican-leaning organization) in the 2006 Florida gubernatorial election. Linn retained professional campaign staff with connections to the Perot and Ventura campaigns [2] [3], but received only 1.9% of the vote. As of March 2007 The Reform Party had ballot access for the Presidential race in 2008 in four states (Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi) and had already started petitioning in an additional four. [4]

Post-2006 developments

June 27, 2007 trial results

The issue of who is the actual leadership for the Reform Party USA was decided in court by Jury trial on June 27, 2007. Rodney Martin was ruled to be the Chairman of the Reform Party, because the meetings in Atlanta and Tampa were against the Reform Party bylaws.

2008 campaign

Businessman Daniel Imperato, who at one time was seeking the 2008 Reform Party nomination, is now seeking the Libertarian Party nomination instead.

On October 20, 2007, the Reform Party of Ohio endorsed Ron Paul for President of the U.S. in the 2008 election.[4]

External links