OBLIVIOUS to an unusual Arctic front outside and some inadequate desk fans inside, a score of sweating phone-bank volunteers hustled to respond to callers wanting to join United We Stand America, Inc.
Armed with his trademark flip cards, Ross Perot announced Jan. 11 the transformation of UWSA from a group of volunteers who had put his name on the ballot and supported his presidential candidacy to a newly incorporated not-for-profit entity. UWSA will now be a political watchdog group supported by members' $15 annual dues. A telemarketing firm answers the toll-free number set up by UWSA.
Launching the membership drive was a cheerful, relaxed Mr. Perot, in contrast to last fall's irascible candidate. The billionaire is $60 million less rich as a result of his self-financed presidential campaign, but he won more votes than any other independent candidate in United States history.
Deriding foreign lobbyists and political-action committees, Perot had promised to "take back the country from the special interests controlling Washington." He finished third in the race. But his supporters cast 1 vote in 5, making them aware of how powerful they could be if formally united.
"After the election, the volunteers, in a huge chorus across the country, said we've got to keep together," Perot said. He ruled out making UWSA a third political party. Instead, the organization plans to educate voters and influence candidates on issues.
An early test of UWSA's political influence will be Texas's special election in May to elect a US senator. Perot said the organization is now determining the role it will play in the contest to fill the seat of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D), who is slated to become Treasury secretary. Already, one self-declared candidate, US Rep. Joe Barton (R), has joined UWSA and visited the organization's Dallas headquarters in search of an endorsement.
PEROT said he does not want to criticize the incoming administration before it takes office.
But he questioned the selection of former Democratic Party chairman Ron Brown for commerce secretary. Mr. Brown has lobbied on behalf of Japanese corporations. "It's kind of odd to hire people who have been working for the other side and put them in charge of free, fair trade," Perot said.
After enough people join the national organization, UWSA members will convene in their own congressional districts to elect a chairman. Each state's district chairmen will elect a state chairman. The state chairmen will serve on a national advisory committee to UWSA.
These elections will solve the dilemma of competing leadership claims that split some local volunteer groups during the presidential election, says Clay Mulford, UWSA's general counsel and Perot's son-in-law.
Perot denied that he was interested in a 1996 presidential bid, saying he had no "death wish" to go to Washington. "I would consider it a personal failure if I have to run again," he said.
Perot will serve as UWSA's national chairman. Noting that his business interests are well-managed, he promised to give UWSA "as much time as it takes." He will fund the organization until it becomes self-supporting through members' dues. Already, a decided thriftiness is evident in the organization's operation.
Tommy Attaway, the organization's national phone-bank director, says that because of the cost, UWSA will not use the entire presidential-campaign mailing list - which has millions of names - in its efforts to solicit members to the new organization.
The headquarters sent out by direct mail 250,000 applications. Another 750,000 were shipped in bulk to selected campaign volunteers for distribution. A second printing of 500,000 applications is now under way.
Beginning Jan. 25, four one-minute television ads will begin airing in test markets. They feature Perot in the same setting as his campaign infomercials.
Infomercials will probably be more cost-effective than newsletters in exposing nonmembers to Perot's message, Mr. Attaway says. Once district chapters are organized, a portion of the membership fees will be rebated to chapters on a pro-rata basis. He says the money can be used for office expenses.