Doubts About How United Perot Group Is Standing


THE upbeat message on the answering machine only hints at the trouble.

"I'm a board member of United We Stand America.... I would love to talk about some of the positive things that are happening in our organization.... I'm a very happy camper," the caller relayed.

That may be. But some in Ross Perot's camp are angrily pulling up stakes.

Last week Mr. Perot raised hackles by recommending that the United We Stand America chapters dissolve their state entities and communicate directly with the national headquarters. A postponed meeting between a group of state chapter leaders and Perot only worsened matters.

The reports of dissent within the Perot ranks come at a time in American politics when potential third-party candidates - ranging from Perot himself to Gen. Colin Powell - could garner enough votes to tilt the outcome of the 1996 presidential elections.

And, like a domestic squabble just as dinner guests arrive, the adverse publicity surfaced at an awkward time for United We Stand America. Coming up in August, UWSA will host a national convention in Dallas featuring leading Republican presidential contenders and politicians.

The critical UWSA members, scattered from Arizona to Ohio, are concerned that the organization is becoming a top-down dictatorship rather than a grass-roots driven political movement.

"We are challenged to get members, but we're not given the resources. Instead, we're hindered, and then we're blamed," says Ed Stanek, co-chairman of the Ohio chapter.

Mr. Stanek dismisses the conference as "a joke" and the concoction of the national organization.

National headquarters has shaken the criticism off. "This is silly season," responds Russ Verney, executive director at UWSA's headquarters in Dallas. He says a few disgruntled people are trying to detract from the convention, which he calls "the most historic event that ever occurred."

The problem dates back to 1993, when Perot's campaign supporters clamored to set up an organization to give continuity to their campaign agenda.

From that emerged UWSA, but its structure, consisting of volunteer boards elected by each state's members and paid state directors appointed by Dallas, has been plagued by contention over power and money.

Last February, the locally chosen leaders in 10 Western states scolded Dallas in a memo that circulated on the Internet. They said that "the concept of 'member-driven' remains an elusive, unfulfilled and deceptive promise." They accused the organization of "living beyond its means" and asked to participate in budgeting and resource allocation.

Other UWSA officials stress that states were always intended to finance their own activities. And some say the state boards, not Dallas, are guilty of a command and control mentality.

"You give somebody a title and all the sudden they think they're the boss," says Illinois volunteer Dawn Larson, a critic of the elected boards.

Some states gleefully scrapped their organizations when given the chance in January, reempowering local volunteers.

"I see it as a corporate structure struggle," says Tom Gebhardt, a congressional district coordinator in Ohio. "Not everything is great. But it's not all Dallas's problem."

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