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FEC Proclaims Buchanan Reform Party Nominee

  • Pat Buchanan is the Reform Party's presidential candidate and is entitled to $12.6 million in campaign funds, the Federal Election Commission ruled.
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By James P. Tucker Jr.

Dragged kicking and screaming into reaching a decision, the Federal Election Commission finally stated the obvious: Pat Buchanan is the Reform Party presidential nominee and is entitled to $12.6 million in campaign funds.

Further emphasizing the point, the FEC voted unanimously that John Ha gelin is not the party's nominee. Hagelin said he will appeal the decision in federal court, which will briefly delay the disbursement of funds to the Buchanan campaign.

The FEC decision came at the conclusion of a three-hour public hearing on Sept. 12, where members displayed concern about how further delays would be viewed by the public.

The SPOTLIGHT reported in the Sept. 18 issue suspicion that the FEC was deliberately delaying action to keep the funds from Buchanan until as late as possible in the campaign and had discussed the matter with the FEC staff.

The six-man commission is composed of three Democrats and three Repub licans, with no new-party representation.

Commissioner Karl Sandstrom (D) urged the commission to take no action and toss the issue into federal court. Failing that, he tried unsuccessfully to get the commission to further delay its decision.

Sandstrom was the only dissenter when the commission voted 5-1 to declare Buchanan the Reform nominee. The second vote, to declare Hagelin not the nominee, was a unanimous 5-0 because Sandstrom had left.

"It is incumbent upon us to make a decision, " said Danny Lee McDonald (D), vice chairman. "It is our responsibility."

Even if the FEC chose to duck the issue and send the matter to federal court -- where it will go on appeal anyway -- the court would promptly toss it back and tell the FEC to do its job, he said.

It would be an "abdication of our responsibility" to make no decision and send the matter directly to federal court, said David Mason (R).

"No court will take this unless we make a decision," said Lawrence Noble, FEC general counsel.

Chairman Darryl Wold (R) said he ag reed the FEC must make a decision and that Buchanan is the nominee.

Bradley Smith (R) said Hagelin "cannot claim that the Natural Law Party and Reform Party are the same and has not met the 10-state criteria."

To qualify under FEC rules, a candidate must be on the ballot in at least 10 states under his party's banner. Hagelin wanted to count the states where he is on the ballot as Natural Law Party nominee in qualifying as the Reform nominee.

"The Natural Law Party had a convention at the end of August and it is too late for two parties to come in and say 'we are the one and the same,' " Mason said.

McDonald asked the FEC staff what is the "best-case scenario" for Hagelin to meet the 10-state criteria. The best Hagelin could possibly do, the staff said, was to qualify in eight states.

Smith, who believes there should be no FEC or public funding of political campaigns, had his nomination to the panel held up for months by President Clinton because of his views. Normally, each party names its members and the selection is promptly rubber-stamped.

Hagelin "showed no fraud" in his petitions to the commission, Smith said, "only that he disagrees with what the convention did" in nominating Buchanan.

Hagelin kept a "prior pledge" to walk out of the Reform Party convention if Bu chanan was nominated, Smith said and "Buchanan was nominated by convention" and is "quite clearly" the nominee.

He dismissed Hagelin's petty complaints, saying the FEC has no role in correcting "parliamentary errors."

Having clearly lost in his effort to get the matter sent to federal court without FEC action, Sandstrom pushed for a further delay on deciding who is the Reform Party nominee.

"There was an election held but we do not know who won," said Sandstrom of the Reform Party convention. He wanted the commission to consider petitions from two individuals challenging Buchanan's nomination.

Mason asked Sandstrom directly: "How do we know who the Republican Party nominated? If someone challenged [the nomination of George W. Bush] would we be required to consider it?"

"Every day we wait is going to deprive that person of the money to campaign," said Scott Thomas (D). "I think we ought to get going and make a decision today."

"Time is running," Wold said before the two votes were taken.

In its formal finding, the FEC said the Buchanan campaign had submitted documentation showing that it is "qualified to appear on numerous general election ballots" as the Reform Party candidate and "meets" the criteria.

In formally finding Hagelin not the nominee, the commission said "the Na tural Law Party and Reform Party are two distinct and separate political parties" and both cannot be counted in reaching the 10-state requirement.

However, in states such as Michigan, which has kept Buchanan off the ballot, the commission indicated it would not intervene.

"The commission should not substitute its own judgment for that of a state with regard to who should appear on a state ballot as a party nominee," the commission said in its formal finding for Buchanan.

An appeals court has rejected an effort by the "Buchanan Brigade" to get him on the Michigan ballot and the issue is headed to the Supreme Court.

Buchanan won 35 percent of the 1996 primary vote in Michigan.