Complaints increasing in Perot's grass roots ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

June 21, 1993|By JACK GERMOND & JULES WITCOVER

NEW YORK -- As Ross Perot continues to assault the nation' airwaves and presses his membership drive for his United We Stand America organization, more Perot dissidents are surfacing with complaints that the organization rejects the genuine grass-roots leadership he claims for it.

A Long Island clinical social worker named Joyce Shepard, a one-time local Perot volunteer leader, is running a shoestring dissident network that she calls "DUPED," for Disenchanted United People for Equality and Democracy, claiming to have associates in 47 states. Her home in Bayside is operating as a clearinghouse for a host of gripes against Perot and his Dallas-based organization, many of them alleging "dictatorial" methods.

"Perot says we have to change the government," Shepard says. "We have to change United We Stand." The Dallas billionaire, she charges, has put the organization in the hands of former military and other people who "strong-arm" local members in the process of asserting control from the top down, rather than from the bottom up as in a true grass-roots movement.

The complaints range from allegations of phone taps and credit rating checks by private investigators during and since the 1992 presidential campaign to charges of the false arrest of a dissident at a chapter meeting and the elbowing aside of locally elected leaders by Dallas-appointed operatives.

nTC In one typical example in Washington state, a woman named Melody Murphy charges that after being duly elected to a United We Stand America steering committee she was ousted by the committee under the guidance of the paid state director. When tapes of the meeting were transcribed and sent to Perot as an appeal, she says, the transcription was immediately sent back to the paid state director who had removed her from the committee. The director, Connie Smith, says Murphy was never elected and that in permitting the tapes to be transcribed by an "outsider," she violated the organization's confidentiality. But she never received the transcription from Dallas, she says.

Sharon Holman, the former Perot business employee who now is spokesperson for the United We Stand America headquarters in Dallas, dismisses the complaints as the normal gripings of individuals who have lost out in local power struggles. She says many of the dissidents are chronic complainers and Shepard is a "psychic," to which Shepard replies: "If I were a psychic, I certainly wouldn't have worked for Ross Perot. I would have known in advance that he was a dictator. I wouldn't have invested thousands of hours and dollars in him."

Many of the dissidents, however, profess still to have loyalty either to Perot or to the idea of an organization like United We Stand America if the sort of grass-roots foundation they believed it would have is restored. Tom Stevens, a New York lawyer, says of Perot: "He has inspired this movement but created a monster. He has convinced people they can change things, and I hope he will come to realize this and turn [the organization] back to the people, not the Perot-bots." Ron DiDonna, the interim New York chairman for United We Stand, says Stevens is a Republican whose main interest is in infiltrating the Perot operation.

The increasing complaints come as Perot appears to have stepped up his direct pitch to voters over television and the membership drive for United We Stand, which seeks to sign up millions of Americans at $15 apiece. Paid state directors are being appointed and elections of local officers by congressional districts are being planned, but the dissidents claim such elections will be mere window dressing for an organization tightly controlled by Dallas.

Holman argues that every political party or movement attracts a certain number of individuals who have their own agendas and who latch on to generate attention and publicity for themselves, and "we've certainly drawn our share, or more than our share."

It is true that some of the critical stories and material about Perot seem to be in the crackpot category, but others reflect the same complaint that was widely heard last year -- that Perot's insistence on tight top-down control is incompatible with true grass-roots organization.

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