Rocky Anderson launches presidential campaign at sparse gathering
Politics • New party wants to limit corporate money and candidate donations from wealthy.
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Washington • The founding members of the Justice Party seek to dismantle the nation's two-party system, eliminate the influence of corporate money in politics and place former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson in the White House.

And if they are somehow able to achieve any of these wildly ambitious goals, they can look back fondly on a humble beginning.

Fewer than 30 people attended the launch of the new political party on Monday. Most either gave a speech, organized the event or are related to someone involved. No TV crews were present. The only cameras were held by supporters.

The meager turnout didn't dampen the enthusiasm of those who believe the growing public dissatisfaction with Washington and Wall Street will help them create a lasting political movement to the left of the Democratic Party; a party that would support a government-regulated health care system, slash military spending and push policies to combat climate change.

But first, the Justice Party wants to see a constitutional amendment curbing corporate money in politics and limiting the amount wealthy people can give to candidates.

"We the people are powerful enough to end the perverse government-to-the-highest-bidder system sustained by the two dominant parties," Anderson said. "We are here today for the sake of justice — social justice, environmental justice and economic justice."

Organizers such as Lenny Brody of Chicago hope to merge the Occupy protests with the Justice Party, creating a broad grass-roots campaign supported by small donations. Anderson said he would not accept more than $100 per person.

The Justice Party must first get on the ballot, a tall order this late in the election cycle. The group also plans to hold an official nominating convention in February.

Eventually the party, and Anderson in particular, must try to convince voters to forgo one of the major party candidates, even if it may swing the election. Some argue that Ross Perot's run in 1992 helped Bill Clinton win the presidency, just as Ralph Nader's Green Party candidacy in 2000 siphoned votes from Al Gore, who narrowly lost to George W. Bush.

Anderson, who once ran for Congress as a Democrat, said he used to worry about supporting a third party because it could allow Republicans to win.

"But if that fear essentially trumps the possibility of the creation of a new party that could bring about a real change in the system," he said, "then things will continue to get worse."

Paul Zeitz, the acting chairman of the Justice Party, bristles at such talk and dislikes the term "third party."

"We are not a third party. We plan to be a major political party," he said. "We are not doing this to be an irritant."

The party hopes that other alternative candidates split the vote with Republicans and Democrats giving them a chance to win in November. Texas Rep. Ron Paul is running for the GOP nomination now but hasn't ruled out a third party challenge. And Americans Elect is planning to nominate a candidate through an online primary.

The Justice Party formed rapidly in the past few months, with Anderson announcing his intention to create an alternative party in late October.

Zeitz, who has primarily worked on international AIDS prevention, paid for Monday's event in the hopes that donations will start rolling in once word spreads. He met Anderson only six weeks ago and they communicate mostly through Skype.

Anderson said the party organized its launch on short notice and said it could have been planned better. He has visions of a grand movement, even if Monday's launch was anything but.

"This is what grass roots looks like at the very beginning," he said.

mcanham@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mattcanham