Perot needs cash, not just emotion

March 28, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer

Fred Griisser has some advice for Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot as Mr. Perot tries to get his name on Maryland's presidential election ballot this year:

Bring your checkbook.

Mr. Perot wants a volunteer campaign. But money is the key to collecting the thousands of valid signatures required of candidates and causes, according to Mr. Griisser, who had to collect more than 33,000 of them in 1988 when he tried to have a handgun law repealed.

Mr. Perot has said he is willing, even eager, to spend $50 million or so of his fortune to run as an independent against President Bush. First, though, he wants what used to be called "an honest draft."

Those who are creating this draft are going about it in way that mixes high-tech machinery -- phone banks and computers -- with the work of volunteers who will be dispatched to collect signatures at high-traffic public places such as the Inner Harbor, neighborhood grocery stores and parking lots at shopping malls.

The campaign is finding an array of ballot access requirements -- rules and regulations designed to separate the serious from the frivolous:

* In Texas, the candidate must not only have signatures from 53,000 registered voters, but they must also not have voted in the recent presidential primary.

* In Florida, the candidate must name a running mate.

* In Ohio, the law obliges Mr. Perot to violate his own threshold conditions and declare himself a candidate even before he knows if he has made it on the ballot in all 50 states.

In Maryland, where access to the ballot takes the signatures of 63,186 registered voters by Aug. 3, the pro-Perot forces got under way last week when Joan Stallings of Epping Forest announced that she would be the state coordinator.

As many as 700 potential Maryland volunteers cascaded down on her directly and through the Perot team's Dallas coordinating office during the first two days of her coordinatorship.

"I'm running on adrenalin already," Ms. Stallings told a reporter last week.

A rally for volunteers is scheduled for today between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at the Ramada Inn in Parole.

The Perot phenomenon, if it is one, seems to certify poll findings that many American voters in both parties want someone else in the field.

Mr. Perot suggested on television last week that he might be that someone. And his Dallas-based phone bank instantly lit up with 18,000 phone calls.

The Perot campaign's tally is confirmed by MCI. Here was something akin to a fiber optic draft, a draft of the '90s.

Over the course of the next 24 hours, according to Sharon Holman, a volunteer coordinator in Dallas, more than 500,000 volunteers fed their names into the Perot data bank, where they are to be collated by state and fed into 50 computer banks run by coordinators like Ms. Stallings.

Fred Griisser suggests the Perot forces keep the scope of their task in perspective. The euphoria of the moment will fade. Even the passion of gun lovers could not carry a months-long campaign.

"This Perot guy will have a real problem if he doesn't pay people," he said.

"Even if they're real committed, it's hard to get people to volunteer. They have other commitments in life, especially in this economy."

His campaign cost $500,000. The money was necessary to keep people on the job.

"You run into a problem with volunteers," he said: "They can only work for you when they're not working for themselves. Once you start paying people, they all work."

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