Where idealism, irreverence meet

March 14, 1992|By John Fairhall | John Fairhall,Staff Writer

COLUMBIA,S.C. — COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Doug Smith was selling bumper stickers and idealism inside the Embassy Suites Hotel, where Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton was holding a rally.

It was not surprising to see him. He has followed the presidential campaign from state to state, becoming a familiar sight at political events.

Today he is probably in Michigan or Illinois, where primaries are scheduled Tuesday.

His goal, hatched with partner Andrew McLeod in December, is nothing less than reforming the political system. These young, part-time waiters from Boston created the Accountability in the Political Process Action Committee. Its purpose is summarized in rhyme on the back of each sticker:

"Republican, Democrat or Independent, that's OK/We want more honesty in what they say."

An accompanying flier demands reform of state and federal campaign financing, the addition of a "none of the above" category on the ballot, easier voter registration procedures and a national referendum on accountability.

The partners spread the word and raise money by selling the stickers, which play on George Bush's pledge not to raise taxes. "Read My Lips," they say. "No More Bush - - ."

The two letters that follow the president's name make it a mild profanity. But most people seem to take it with the humor that's intended. Quite a few coughed up the money -- one for $2, three for $3 -- Mr. Smith was asking outside the Clinton rally last week.

Since getting the first batch Dec. 21, Mr. Smith said, they have sold more than 8,500 stickers. That includes 1,000 sold in Baltimore, where he spent time during Maryland's recent primary campaign, and orders received from people around the country.

Mr. Smith is the traveling half of the committee. Mr. McLeod, 29, tends to paperwork back in Boston, where their shared apartment doubles as an office.

Because it is a low-budget operation, Mr. Smith, 32, sleeps at friends' homes and shares rides. He started in New Hampshire, where the campaign began, later went to Maryland, and was in South Carolina on the eve of the March 7 primary.

The two men hope to attract to their cause well-known people "ranging from Ted Koppel to Paul Newman," said Mr. Smith. They also need more "thinkers," he said, in an admission of his and Mr. McLeod's limitations.

They have never done anything like this. "My background and my partner's background is finance, investment and marketing," Mr. Smith said.

But he said they have been active in progressive causes and recently gave up their full-time jobs to plan a "coffee shop that is socially and environmentally conscious."

The idea for the committee germinated like a forced flower bulb: One moment they were tossing around words that would eventually be the bumper sticker slogan, the next they were ordering stickers and registering at City Hall.

"We decided we were going to put 100 percent of our energy" into this, Mr. Smith said. "If you get one step closer to your ideals, you've made a major difference."

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