DALLAS -- Ross Perot plans a major effort to influenc legislation on Capitol Hill during the early years of the Clinton administration, starting with the May 1 special election in Texas to replace Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, President-elect Bill Clinton's choice as treasury secretary.
Mr. Perot said in an interview that in the first 24 hours after he announced his intention to resume political activity Jan. 11, 500,000 people called his phone banks, and 400,000 joined United We Stand, America, the organization that grew out of his independent presidential campaign in 1992. Tens of thousands of letters are in a Dallas warehouse, waiting to be opened. The group's annual dues are $15.
In a year or two, he said, the group may be financially self-sustaining, but he will be its spokesman and will help it financially as needed. He waved aside any suggestion that it constitutes a nascent third party.
For the special election, which will be a key test of his political muscle, Mr. Perot said he hoped to "stage huge rallies across Texas and invite the candidates to come and address our agenda, then put the whole thing on television." The candidate who spoke most convincingly to issues such as the federal deficit and governmental reform would be endorsed.
Mr. Perot asserted that in the Senate runoff election in Georgia on Nov. 24, the backing of his supporters provided the margin of victory for Paul Coverdell, the Republican candidate. Mr. Coverdell, whom the Perot backers (but not Mr. Perot himself) endorsed because he had pledged to cut the deficit, defeated the incumbent Democrat, Wyche Fowler Jr., by only 17,000 votes.
After Texas, the next step will be electronic town meetings. At a series of such meetings later this year, Mr. Perot said, supporters will discuss issues with the help of expert testimony, either delivered in person by academic or other specialists, or possibly summarized by discussion leaders. They will then vote for the approach they favor on, say, medical care or taxes. Through the use of computers, he said, it will be easy to compile results by congressional district and by state that could be used to bring pressure on Congress.
The implication was that unyielding legislators might well find themselves with Perot-backed opponents at the polls.
The whole effort would be conducted at the grass roots and coordinated from Dallas, with no Washington headquarters, no marches or demonstrations in the capital and certainly no paid lobbyists, Perot aides said.
"It gives the little guy a voice by putting him together with other little guys," Mr. Perot said. "At least these members of Congress will know what their constituents think, and I think that will have some influence.
"If we have enough votes, they'll pay attention. If we get a big enough turnout, we'll knock everyone right on their ear."
During a 90-minute conversation in his offices in North Dallas, Mr. Perot said at first that he intended "to back off and give this Clinton group a little time." As he warmed up, he spoke critically ++ about Mr. Clinton's policies, but he refrained from personal attacks.
"Clinton was strong as horseradish on government reform during the campaign," he said. "When their delegation came down here to see me that day, when I was deciding whether to get back into the race, they were going to get rid of lobbyists, they were going to get rid of special-interests money.
"But there's been a drift since. They talk about their new ethics rules, but they've left all those lobbyists in place who gave them big money."