SEATTLE -- Stepping up his attack on the North American Free Trade Agreement, Ross Perot charged yesterday that President Clinton was involved in a "criminal" attempt to win congressional votes for the proposal.
"They are buying NAFTA votes with your taxpayer money," Mr. Perot asserted. He spoke at the last of some 90 rallies he has held around the country this year in an attempt to defeat the agreement, scheduled for a vote in the House of Representatives Wednesday.
He said that one member of Congress had been bought with the promise that two military planes worth $1.4 billion would be built in his district, even though the planes, Mr. Perot said, were not needed by the Air Force.
Another congressman, he asserted, had been persuaded to vote for the trade agreement with the White House promise to build a $10 million bridge in his district.
"That's the way they're doing it," Mr. Perot charged, without naming any of the lawmakers. "They offered still another congressman a bridge, but he told them he didn't have any rivers running through his district."
Then, as a thousand of his partisans cheered and hooted, Mr. Perot leveled his most pointed attack yet on the president.
"Do you want members of Congress who can be bought?" he asked his audience. "Don't you think they ought to have a criminal inquiry going for buying votes for NAFTA?"
The Texas businessman contended that despite White House pressure a majority of the members of the House still oppose the accord. But he warned that unless the anti-agreement forces hang together, the White House might find a way to win over the two dozen or so lawmakers who are still believed to be undecided or not firmly with the anti-NAFTA forces.
"Don't blink," said Mr. Perot, who opposes the agreement on the ground that it is the work of selfish corporate and political interests and would lead to the flight of millions of American jobs to other countries.
Gary Kaster, an accountant who was attending the rally, said in between Mr. Perot's sallies that he would stand firm against the accord. "This isn't about trading goods," he said. "This is about trading jobs."
Mr. Perot has focused on defeating the trade agreement since his strong third-place finish in the presidential election last November. He compared the White House effort to win votes for NAFTA to allegations that Republicans in the recent New Jersey governor's race spent $500,000 to suppress the urban black vote, which is predominately Democratic. Federal investigators are looking into the allegations.
If influencing votes with money in New Jersey is illegal, then influencing votes with money on Capitol Hill also should be illegal, Mr. Perot said, adding: "If the president of the United States cares about the people, he can stop buying votes. He ought to take a lesson from New Jersey."
As he has throughout the fight over the trade agreement, Mr. Perot warned that he would use the power of his political organization, United We Stand America, to punish members of Congress who support the agreement.