Reform Party USA
|Founded: ||1995 |
|Colours: ||None commonly used |
|Political ideology: ||radical middle |
|International alignment: ||None |
The Reform Party of the United States of America (abbreviated Reform Party USA or RPUSA) is a political party in the United States, founded by Ross Perot in 1995 under the belief that 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. It is usually referred to simply as the Reform Party within the U.S.
The party grew out of Ross 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. While at one point in the race he led in polls, Perot ended up receiving about 18.9% of the popular vote. He continued being politically involved after the election, concentrating on defeating the NAFTA trade agreement.
Though in 1994 the Republicans who took power in Congress tried to deal with many of Perot's fiscal issues, Perot and his supporters were still dissatisfied and by 1995 sought to found a third party which would rival the Republicans and Democrats. There were several names suggested for the party, including 'Independent Party' and 'Independence Party', which were designed to appeal to the belief that voters identified as 'independent' and not aligned with the two parties or other third parties had a common voice. Because of legal reasons, the party ended up being called the 'Reform Party'. There was a drive to get the party on the ballot in all 50 states, which ended up involving lawsuits challenging state ballot access requirements. It also involved incorporating minor parties in many states which formed since 1992 on Perot's principles, such as the Patriot Party, and United We Stand America, the organization through which Perot had coordinated his 1992 campaign.
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 wouldn't give Lamm the chance at running, and 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, were Perot's doing. Eventually, Perot was nominated and he chose economist Pat Choate as his vice-presidential candidate. After a decision that they would not be allowed in the presidential debates, Perot and Choate tried legal efforts but failed. In the end, they won 8% of the vote.
Between then and the next election, raucous conventions were held in which dissenters upset at Perot's perceived control over the party fought with those who held party offices. Eventually a small group split to establish the American Reform Party.
In 1998, the Reform Party received a victory by electing Jesse Ventura governor of Minnesota, the highest office win for a third party since the beginning of the century.
By the 2000 election, any presidential candidate nominated by the party was qualified for the federal matching funds--$12.5 million--and this had made it an attractive takeover target. Both former Republican Pat Buchanan--supported by Choate and Lenora Fulani--and John Hagelin of the Natural Law Party attempted to win control of the Reform Party. A parliamentary struggle ensued with each claiming to be the official candidate. Many members who supported Hagelin were upset that Buchanan had enlisted his long-time supporters to swamp local party chapters to ensure him delegates and worried about potential changes to the party platform that would match Buchanan's positions on social issues.
There were several high profile individuals who also made it known they were considering to run for the Reform Party nomination. This included the celebrities Warren Beatty and Donald Trump, whose aspirations were not taken too seriously by the public, and decided not to run. Former Connecticut Governor and Senator Lowell Weicker considered a run, supported by Ventura but did not want to get in the middle of the fight between the Buchanan and Hagelin supporters.
That struggle culminated in August 2000, when Buchanan was nominated by the party's convention in Long Beach, California and Hagelin was nominated by a rump convention of delegates who walked out of the one dominated by Buchanan supporters. The split was characterized by heated arguments and even shoving matches between the Buchanan and Hagelin factions.
Buchanan was ruled by the Federal Election Commission to be the official candidate and therefore eligible for the federal election funds. In the 2000 election, Buchanan and Vice-Presidential running mate Ezola B. Foster received 448,895 votes, or 0.4% of the popular vote, failing to meet the 5% threshold to receive federal election funds in 2004. John Hagelin received 83,714 votes--mainly on the Natural Law Party line--which amounted to barely 0.1% of the popular vote.
The Minnesota branch of the Reform Party, which helped elect Ventura, disaffiliated from the national party after the Buchanan takeover and renamed itself the Independence Party of Minnesota.
The final Reform Party split occurred in April 2002, when former Buchanan supporters left in droves to form the right-wing America First Party. Buchanan supporters took at least eight affiliated state parties with them when they quit, badly hurting the Reform Party's future prospects.
By the October 2003 convention the Reform Party was organized in only thirty states (many of which were rump affiliates controlled by the America First Party) and had ballot access for the 2004 election in only seven. In most of those seven states, the party organizations had recently left the national party or were about to disaffiliate from it. Ballot status was not expected to be gained in any other states.
The Reform Party was presented with a surprise opportunity to retain ballot status in some states when Ralph Nader announced that he would not run as a Green Party candidate. More than two thirds of the 41 participants in a presidential candidate nominating session held May 12, 2004 voted to nominate Nader as the RPUSA candidate for President.
People against Nader's role in the race, mainly Democrats, tried to vigorously argue that the Reform Party, which had somewhat broken down, was no longer viable and did not constitute a national party by FEC regulations. By August 11, 2004 it appeared that whatever remained of the Reform Party USA was over, as the national party treasurer, William D. Chapman Sr, informed Federal Election Commission officials the party had only $18.18 left in the bank and should be ended. As of that date, the party was more than $300,000 in debt. In response, the Reform Party leadership suspended Chapman from his post.
The 2004 RPUSA convention was scheduled to be held July 22-25 in Columbus, Ohio but was canceled due to the collapse of the party. Sixty-three delegates (according to the party chairman, Sean O'Hara of Mississippi) attended a national convention on August 27-28 in Irving, Texas and chose Ralph Nader to be the party's nominee for President. Other reports put the number of delegates attending this convention at as few as ten or eleven and noted that the motel which served as the convention site does not have any facilities for group meetings.
In early September, the appeals to have Nader's name stricken from the Florida and Colorado ballots on the basis that the party was no longer a "national" party choosing its nominee by a "national" convention were denied by the courts in those states.
No nominated candidate in 2004, but the Reform Party did endorse Ralph Nader.
The Reform Party platform included the following:
A noticeable absence from the Reform Party platform has been what are so-called 'social issues', including abortion and gay rights. Reform Party representatives had long stated beliefs that their party could bring together people from both sides of these issues, which they consider divisive, to address what they considered to be more vital concerns as expressed in their platform. The idea was to form a large coalition of moderates; but this aspect of the platform is something severely criticized by other minor party candidates who have argued that the disunity on these issues has in part led to the party's breakdown over the years.
- Official homepage (http://www.reformparty.org)
- RPUSA platform (http://www.reformparty.org/cgi-bin/platform.cgi)