Perot Considered Helping Dems

Ross Perot's top lieutenants dangled the prospect of using the billionaire's deep pockets to help Democrats seize control of the House, but abruptly shelved the idea after the Monica Lewinsky matter soured their mood.

"Democrats have some self-policing to do," said Russell Verney, chairman of the Perot-founded Reform Party.

Verney says he told the Democrats they were unlikely to get help from the Reform Party while the Lewinsky scandal is percolating.

"I essentially told them that circumstances had changed radically," Verney said in an interview. "I'm not so sure if our strategy is capable of working anymore. ... The issue of character and integrity is going to be important in 1998, so we have to be concerned about all this."

With President Clinton's party deep in debt and struggling to overcome an 11-seat GOP majority in the House, Democrats welcomed signals that Perot might lend a hand. Yet party officials said they never expected the Reform Party to follow through on the suggestion; they entertained the notion simply to maintain communication with the party, its voters and Perot, Democrats said.

"We didn't have any expectations" about Perot's support, said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Dan Sallick. "And we still don't."

Dissatisfied with the GOP leadership, Reform Party vice presidential candidate Pat Choate proposed in November that party members target 40 to 50 vulnerable House Republicans for defeat in 1998. "We can win enough votes to shift control of the House," he said.

Two weeks ago, Verney met for breakfast at a Washington hotel with Mike Wessel, general counsel to House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Paul Frick, political director for the Democratic National Campaign Committee.

They discussed vulnerable Republican congressional districts and the strength of Perot voters in those areas. By all accounts, Verney ended the meeting by voicing distaste for the brewing Lewinsky scandal; the Democrats contended the controversy would not effect the party's chances in 1998.

The strategy called for the Reform Party and Democrats to identify districts with vulnerable incumbent Republicans and large numbers of Perot voters, he said. The Reform Party, which is trying to be less reliant on Perot's money and magnetism, would recruit and manage candidates against the targeted GOP congressmen.

Yet, Verney said the party had been expected to ask Perot to pay for a national advertising campaign promoting the effort.

However, Verney said he had serious questions about Clinton's denials of an affair with Lewinsky.

"You can't hide from the truth," he said of Clinton. Alluding to House Speaker Newt Gingrich's $300,000 fee for ethics violations, Verney said, "Gingrich proved you can lie for $300,000. Clinton proved you can lie for free."

Verney said he was not speaking for Perot who was not commenting on the Lewinsky matter or the plan to help Democrats.

By Ron Fournier
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