LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) A deeply fractured Reform Party formally opens its convention Thursday with one faction battling presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and threatening to hold a breakaway gathering nearby.
Buchanan backers "have attempted to take over control through some predatory tactics," former chairman Russ Verney asserted Thursday. Interviewed on NBC's "Today," Verney said Buchanan and his campaign manager and sister, Bay Buchanan, "stuffed the ballot box with 500,000 names, but they will not release the information to show they are valid voters."
The nominee is selected by mail ballot.
Bay Buchanan, interviewed on the same program, retorted: "The reason they are walking out of this convention and having their own convention is because they have lost in the legitimate convention. We'll be bringing over 70 percent of the delegates won fair and square in some 50 states."
The anti-Buchanan forces were preparing to ask federal elections officials to block him from receiving the $12.5 million in federal matching funds that comes with the nomination.
"The papers are on a plane to Washington," said Jim Mangia, head of the group trying to stop Buchanan.
The split that began Tuesday with Mangia's faction storming out to name its own national committee members widened Wednesday.
Each side issued separate credentials to party members it certified as "true" delegates.
The composition of the delegation is crucial because while the nominee will be decided by mail-in voting, the convention can overrule the balloting with a two-thirds vote of the delegates.
By late Wednesday, Buchanan's campaign claimed to control 410 of the 596 delegates, while Mangia's side said it would reach about 400.
Each contingent predicted that when the anti-Buchanan delegates arrived at the convention Thursday, they would be refused seating.
Mangia rented a hall down the street from the convention hall and said if his loyalists are turned away, they will march to that arena to stage their own nominating convention.
Buchanan backers dismissed the prospect of a rival convention, saying it would be meaningless and that Buchanan would be affirmed as the party's nominee.
"Fine, that means the losers are meeting," said K.B. Forbes, a Buchanan campaign spokesman. "It doesn't mean anything. It's insignificant. This is the real convention."
The prospect of dueling conventions raised the likelihood of two nominees, an outcome that would throw into question who is entitled to the $12.5 million.
Buchanan opponents back John Hagelin, a nuclear physicist who also is running for president in the Natural Law Party.
In another twist, Hagelin is scheduled to address the original convention controlled by Buchanan, but Buchanan will not.
Buchanan aides say he wants to project an image as a winner, and will only give an acceptance speech on Saturday.
Hagelin could choose to address the breakaway convention, or both.
"The whole thing is sandy ground," said Hagelin spokesman Bob Roth.
The complaint to the Federal Elections Commission asks the panel to decline to recognize Buchanan as the winner and to deny him the $12.5 million in federal funds.
"The FEC will have to decide who is the nominee of the party," said former party chairman Russ Verney, a Hagelin backer, adding that the money matter may eventually have to be resolved by a judge. "A court will decide custody of the $12.5 million."
Hagelin backers are also considering other legal action in state and federal courts.
As the sides shouted at one another Wednesday, Buchanan dismissed the "little tiffs" between factions as sour grapes from longtime party members seeing their clout disappear.
"I think you'll see, just by yourselves, taking a look at the energy and fire and the numbers here, this nomination belongs to us," Buchanan told a few hundred chanting supporters gathered at his hotel.